Author Archives: Terry Townshend

About Terry Townshend

I am a British birder living and birding in Beijing from August 2010 until 2015. Through this blog I hope I can convey a sense of what it is like to live in this thriving, confident and contrasting city and the birdlife that can be found in its environs. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it! Terry Townshend, Beijing September 2010

First for China: STREAK-THROATED SWALLOW in Beijing!

By Terry

Streak-throated Swallow occurs from Oman in the west, through Pakistan and India to Nepal and Bangladesh in the east, occurring as a vagrant in Sri Lanka, the Arabian Gulf and Egypt. Just a month before the Beijing record, one was seen in Kuwait.            

With so few birders in Beijing, we know we are only scratching the surface in terms of understanding the birds of the capital, let alone China as a whole..  We always expect the unexpected.  But on 4 May something extraordinary happened – a South Asian species appeared in China for the first time.. not in Yunnan Province, the far south-west as one might expect, but in Beijing!  This almost unbelievable sighting was superbly documented by Beijing-based Colm Moore, just reward for his dedication to working his local patch at Shahe Reservoir.  You can read his full story on the Birding Beijing blog.  Wow!

STREAK-THROATED SWALLOW, Shahe Reservoir, Beijing, 4 May 2014 (Colm Moore)

STREAK-THROATED SWALLOW, Shahe Reservoir, Beijing, 4 May 2014 (Colm Moore).  The first record for China.

 

Tracking ‘pekinensis’ Common Swifts

By Terry

 We know very little about the migration route and wintering grounds of pekinensis Common Swifts.  This project, a collaboration between Dick Newell, Lyndon Kearsley, the Beijing Birdwatching Society and the Summer Palace, aims to change that by using ultra-lightweight geolocators.   
 

 

A 'pekinensis' Swift fitted with one of the ultra-lightweight geolocators.

A ‘pekinensis’ Swift fitted with an ultra-lightweight geolocator.

In December, during a BirdLife drinks reception coinciding with a work visit to London, I had a chance encounter with Dick Newell who, as anyone who knows him will testify, is passionate about Swifts.  He coordinates the Action For Swifts website and helped to organise the International Swift Conference in April this year, as well as being involved in all manner of swift conservation projects.

During our conversation, covering a range of Chinese birds, we spoke about ‘pekinensis‘ Swifts, the subspecies of Common Swift that breeds in China.  Dick waxed lyrical about how cool it would be to develop a project to fit geolocators to the ‘pekinensis‘ Swifts in Beijing to find out where they spent the winter (thought to be southern Africa), and what route they took to and from China.  I briefed him on the annual swift ringing programme that took place at the Summer Palace, Beijing, arranged by the Beijing Birdwatching Society (BBWS) and straight away his eyes lit up….  “Perfect.  Leave it with me” he said…  If I could speak to the BBWS about their willingness to participate in a geolocator project for their swifts, Dick would investigate sourcing some geolocators and arrange a visit to Beijing with Lyndon Kearsley from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, a very experienced ringer and a veteran of projects to fit geolocators to Common and Pallid Swifts in Europe.

A few short weeks later, with the generous help of Susanne Åkesson from Lund University in Sweden, Dick had sourced a total of 31 geolocators and we were arranging dates for Dick and Lyndon to visit Beijing to work with, and train, the BBWS folks to fit this amazing technology to the resident swifts.

Saturday 24 May was the big day and, after rising at 0400, I met Dick and Lyndon, together with Wu Lan from the BBWS (who has worked miracles to ensure the Chinese authorities were comfortable with the project) and by 0515 we were in the pavilion at the Summer Palace where the very efficient BBWS team had already erected the nets and had started to catch swifts.

Retrieving the first 'pekinensis' Common Swift (Apus apus) from the net.

Retrieving the first ‘pekinensis’ Common Swift (Apus apus pekinensis) from the net.

Lyndon set to work and, having trained several teams from the BBWS the previous evening about how to fit the geolocators, the first pioneering birds began to be fitted with their ultra-lightweight backpacks.

Lyndon Kearsley preparing the geolocators.

Lyndon Kearsley preparing the geolocators.

These geolocators do not allow the birds to be satellite-tracked – that still requires technology too heavy for a swift – instead, to collect the data, the birds must be re-trapped at a later date.  That is why it was so fortunate that almost all of the birds fitted with geolocators today had been ringed at the same site in previous years, proving that the individuals to whom the backpacks have been fitted are site-loyal.  This gives us all hope that there will be a significant re-capture rate next year, allowing us to find out for the first time where these birds spend the winter and what route they take on migration.  Exciting stuff!

Lyndon and Zhang Shen from Beijing Birdwatching Society fitting a geolocator.

Lyndon and Zhang Shen from Beijing Birdwatching Society fitting a geolocator.

It was heartening to see the interest shown by the BBWS and, despite the rain that persisted throughout, it was a real family occasion with many young children, students, parents and grandparents turning out to volunteer.  There were huge smiles all around when the swift carrying the first geolocator was released… It powered into the air, seemingly oblivious to both the special package it was carrying and the excitement among the group that, very soon, we will know much more about the famous Summer Palace swifts of Beijing.

The BBWS took the opportunity of the swift ringing to brief visiting school children about the importance of bird conservation.

The BBWS took the opportunity of the swift ringing to brief visiting school children about the importance of bird conservation.

Having come directly from working with Common Swifts in Europe, it was interesting that both Dick and Lyndon said very early on how ‘brown’ these pekinensis birds are compared with Common Swift in Europe and also how the call was closer to Pallid Swift than Common… We hope to record some calls over the next few weeks to enable some analysis and comparisons with nominate Common and Pallid to be made.

A huge thank you to Dick and Lyndon for sourcing the geolocators and visiting Beijing to fit them, as well as training the BBWS team and spreading the word about swifts at universities here; to Wu Lan and the team at BBWS, especially Ms Fu Jianping and Mr Zhao, who have been instrumental in making everything happen at this end, and to the authorities at The Summer Palace for allowing this project to go ahead and for taking so much interest in these special birds that have chosen this most famous of Beijing landmarks as their home.

Seeing this project set up from nothing in less than 6 months, the lesson that I draw from all this is that I should drink more beer!

Some more photos from the day below.

The data centre.  Volunteers from the BBWS log all the vital statistics during the ringing programme.

The data centre. Volunteers from the BBWS log all the vital statistics during the ringing programme.

Lyndon releasing a 'pekinensis' Swift fitted with a geolocator.

Lyndon releasing a ‘pekinensis’ Swift fitted with a geolocator with Dick in the background recording the moment.

 

 

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART in Beijing!

By Terry Townshend

Przevalski’s Redstart is endemic to China.  It breeds in Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia Provinces and is a very rare winter vagrant to eastern China

BOOM!  On Saturday 15 February I found a male Przevalski’s Redstart (Alashan Redstart, Phoenicurus alaschanicus) at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain.  This is the first record in Beijing for at least 20 years and is possibly only the second ever.

Przevalski's Redstart (Phoenicurus alaschanicus), Lingshan, Beijing, 15 February 2014.

Przevalski’s Redstart (Phoenicurus alaschanicus), Lingshan, Beijing, 15 February 2014.

GULDENSTADT'S REDSTART (left) chasing the PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART (right), Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

GULDENSTADT’S REDSTART (left) chasing the PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (right), Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

Przevalski’s (don’t ask me to pronounce it) is arguably the most attractive and one of the most sought-after redstarts in China.  It is a high-altitude specialist, breeding on rocky and scrub-covered slopes above 3,300 metres and descending to 2,000 metres in winter.  Lingshan in Beijing has a peak of 2,303 metres and the altitude of the current bird is around 1800 metres.  It’s in the company of several Guldenstadt’s Redstarts (White-winged Redstart, Phoenicurus erythrogastrus).

Full story here.  Anyone visiting Beijing and wanting to see it, please contact me for precise location details.

 

MEGA: Meadow Pipit!

By Terry Townshend

The title of this post is almost certainly not a message you will see on your RBA pager!  But it’s exactly the message that flashed up on the new “Birding Beijing” smartphone chat group on 14th January when Paul Holt found Beijing’s first MEADOW PIPIT at Miyun Reservoir.

 MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis) is the 455th species to be recorded in Beijing 

Paul was spoilt that day as he also found Beijing’s second ever (and first for more than 50 years!) ARCTIC REDPOLL (ssp exilipes).  In fact, it was as he was looking at the redpoll flock that he heard what he thought sounded like a MEADOW PIPIT.  Of course, being Beijing, he understandably thought it must have been a slightly unusual sounding japonicus BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT, itself pretty rare in the capital in winter.  It wasn’t until the redpoll flock disappeared on one of its regular forays that he turned to look for the suspected BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT and realised that it was, in fact, a MEADOW PIPIT!  Putting the news out quickly, it was subsequently ‘twitched’ by several of Beijing’s birders and is still there as I write, in the company of a flock of WATER PIPITS (Anthus spinoletta).

Some (heavily cropped) images of the MEADOW PIPIT here:

MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis), Miyun Reservoir, Beijing, 22 January 2014.  The heavily streaked back, plain rump and face, and the typical gait are all apparent in this photo.

MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis), Miyun Reservoir, Beijing, 22 January 2014. The heavily streaked back, plain rump and face, and the typical gait are all apparent in this photo.

 

One of Paul's original photos of the MEADOW PIPIT at Miyun Reservoir.  A spectacular find.

One of Paul’s original photos of the MEADOW PIPIT at Miyun Reservoir. A spectacular find.

This MEADOW PIPIT continues a spectacular start to 2014 in China’s capital with a COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (ssp tristis) discovered on 6 January in the Olympic Forest Park.  And with 7 new species added in 2013, the Beijing list now stands at a whopping 455.  There can’t be many major capital cities that compare…

 

 

Baer’s on the brink

BAER’S POCHARD (Aythya baeri), 2 males (upper left and lower right) and a female (lower left), with drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK (Aythya nyroca) on the breeding grounds in Hebei Province, May 2013.

BAER’S POCHARD (Aythya baeri), 2 males (upper left and lower right) and a female (lower left), with drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK (Aythya nyroca) on the breeding grounds in Hebei Province, May 2013.

Baer’s Pochard (Aythya baeri) hit the mainstream birding headlines in Europe when British birder, Alan Lewis, famously ‘twitched’ one in Japan in February 2012.  The fact that Alan was prepared to fly half way around the world to see a single overwintering drake a few hours from Tokyo was testament not only to the rarity of this once abundant duck from East Asia but also that, at the time, there were no reliable sites to see it in the wild anywhere on the planet.

In the early 1900s Baer’s Pochard was described by La Touche as “extremely abundant” in eastern China during spring and autumn migration as it made its way to and from its breeding grounds in northeast China and southeast Russia.  Some recently circulated notes from Beijing-based Jesper Hornskov described a flock of 114 on the lake at the Summer Palace as recently as March 1989.  Many birders who visited the Chinese east coast migration hotspot of Beidaihe in the 1980s and 1990s probably saw reasonable numbers, too.  Historically, it was reliable in winter at Poyang Hu in Jiangxi Province, with flocks numbering 100s of birds being reported there as recently as the 1990s and 2000s.

However, its decline since then has been dramatic and near catastrophic.  In 2012 a (partial) summer survey of what was thought to be its breeding stronghold – Lake Khanka on the China-Russian border – produced not a single confirmed sighting during the core breeding season, although two were seen in August.  Similarly, a 2012/2013 survey of its known core wintering grounds, coordinated by WWT and WWF China, produced just 45 individuals thinly spread across the Provinces of Anhui, Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan and Hong Kong, an apparently calamitous drop in numbers that explains why the status of Baer’s Pochard was rightly upgraded to “Critically Endangered” by BirdLife International.

The reasons for the dramatic decline are not well understood but are likely to include habitat destruction and degradation (partly natural, caused by a long-term drought in northeast China, but predominantly human-related), and hunting pressure at stopover sites and on the wintering grounds.  However, it is an interesting contrast that the Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca), a species with which Baer’s Pochard often associates and that shares similar habitat preferences, appears to be increasing in numbers and spreading north and east.

In fact, the expansion of the range of Ferruginous Duck could be an additional threat to an already vulnerable Baer’s Pochard due to the spectre of hybridisation.  The threat of hybridisation is not just theoretical; it’s real.  I have personally seen drake Baer’s Pochards displaying to female (and male!) Ferruginous Ducks at Wild Duck Lake in Beijing and one bird I observed on the breeding grounds in May showed characteristics of both species.  The image below shows a bird that, superficially, looks like a Ferruginous Duck but the heavier bill and the green sheen to the nape may indicate Baer’s influence. And, according to Nial Moores, Director of Birds Korea, “obvious” (probably Baer’s Pochard x Ferruginous Duck) hybrids are reported to be commoner than pure Baer’s in Korea and Japan.

Possible Baer’s Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, Hebei Province, May 2013.  Note the more Baer’s-like structure and the green sheen to the back of the head/nape.

Possible BAER’S POCHARD x FERRUGINOUS DUCK hybrid, Hebei Province, May 2013. A poor record image but note the more Baer’s-like structure with large, less peaked head and heavy bill. The bird also exhibited a green sheen to the back of the head/nape.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Baer’s Pochard was top of my “most-wanted” list when I arrived in Beijing and I will never forget the elation of self-finding my first drake in March 2012 on a central Beijing reservoir.

My first BAER’S POCHARD, a drake at Shahe Reservoir, Beijing, on 25 March 2012.

My first BAER’S POCHARD, a drake at Shahe Reservoir, Beijing, on 25 March 2012.

However, among all the doom and gloom for Baer’s Pochard is a glimmer of hope.  In 2012 a breeding site – the only confirmed breeding site currently in existence – was discovered in Hebei Province – well south of Baer’s Pochard’s traditional northeast Chinese and Siberian breeding range.  According to local birders, at least four pairs attempted to breed last year and young were seen in July.  Breeding has also been suspected or reported (but as yet unconfirmed) at two other sites in Shandong and Henan Provinces, again well south of the traditional breeding range and involving just 1-4 pairs.  Whether these sites have always held Baer’s Pochard and have simply been overlooked in the past, or whether Baer’s Pochard is a recent colonist at these more southerly sites is a question to which we don’t yet have the answer.  If it is a recent colonist, could it be an adaptation to the deteriorating conditions on its traditional breeding grounds?  And given that Ferruginous Duck is also a breeder at these sites, is hybridisation now the most immediate and pressing threat to this species in the wild in the same way Ruddy was a threat to White-headed Duck in Spain?

With such a small wild population, birds in wildfowl collections and the quality of their genes become more important, especially if a captive breeding programme forms part of the action plan to save this species.  Fortunately, in the context of captive birds, there was some recent good news from Martin Mere.

The recently discovered breeding site in Hebei Province is a Provincial-level nature reserve and, despite it being a popular tourist destination in summer due to the extensive lotus ponds, disturbance on the lake itself is relatively low.  It is therefore an ideal place to study Baer’s Pochard’s habitat and feeding requirements in order to develop and put in place measures to conserve this species before it’s too late.

At the East Asian-Australiasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) Meeting of Parties in Alaska in June there was agreement to develop an International Species Action Plan for Baer’s Pochard, and a Task Force to lead its implementation.  The Action Plan will now be compiled by experts from the main range states of the species, and will identify the priority conservation actions needed at the key breeding and wintering sites and research to fill the most important gaps in knowledge.

As is often the case, one of the barriers is a lack of funding.  Surprisingly, Baer’s Pochard is still looking for a Species Champion under BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme…  Any takers out there?

In the meantime a JustGiving page, set up by BirdLife International, is open to accept donations.  Individuals can make an enormous difference to the chances of saving Baer’s Pochard from extinction in the wild.

BAER’S POCHARD in flight (male), Hebei Province, May 2013

BAER’S POCHARD in flight (male), Hebei Province, May 2013

You can read more about the plight of Baer’s Pochard on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership website and a comprehensive article by WWT and WWF China will appear in the forthcoming issue of Birding Asia, published by the Oriental Bird Club.

It goes without saying that any records of Baer’s Pochard, or suspected hybrids, are valuable.  I urge all birders either based in, or visiting, the region to report any sightings, with photos where available, to monitoring@wwt.org.uk

Many thanks to Richard Hearn, Head of Species Monitoring at WWT, Spike Millington, Chief Executive of the EAAFP, Jim Lawrence and Mike Crosby of BirdLife International, Nial Moores, Director of Birds Korea, and Paul Holt for input to this blog post.

=======

Baer’s Pochard was named in 1863 by Gustav Radde after Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876), an Estonian Russian scientist who specialized in biology, embryology, geology, meteorology and geography.  Interestingly, von Baer was one of Darwin’s most vocal critics.

Karl Ernst von Baer, the Estonian-Russian scientist after whom Baer’s Pochard is named.

Karl Ernst von Baer, the Estonian-Russian scientist after whom Baer’s Pochard is named.

Blackthroat

Black-throated Blue Robin (Luscinia obscura), Changqing National Nature Reserve, Shaanxi Province, China, 8 May 2013

Black-throated Blue Robin (Luscinia obscura), Changqing National Nature Reserve, Shaanxi Province, China, 8 May 2013.  Photo by Rob Holmes

By Terry

The Black-throated Blue Robin (Blackthroat) was, until very recently, an almost mythical bird.  Known only from the odd scattered record in the Chinese Provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu, with presumed wintering records in southern China and Thailand, it has been “the Holy Grail” of China birding. 

The chances of seeing one were as close to zero as one could get until June 2011 when Per Alström and a team of Chinese scientists discovered a total of 14 males at two sites – Foping and Changqing – in Shaanxi Province.

I had long been planning a trip to neighbouring Sichuan Province in May this year with friends Rob Holmes and Jonathan Price and, after consulting our local guide – Sid Francis – we decided to tag on a couple of extra days to visit Changqing and try to see Blackthroat.  It was a gamble.  We knew that, in 2012, the first birds were seen in Foping and Changqing on 4 and 18 May respectively.  So it was by no means certain that they would have arrived and be on territory on 8 May, the day we had planned to visit.  And even if they had arrived, would we be able to find one?

Per had kindly uploaded some sound recordings of the Blackthroat’s song, so we knew what to listen for.  And on our arrival at Changqing we met with our guide for the day – Zhang Yongwen – who was part of the team that made the discovery in 2011.  We were as prepared as we could be, and in good hands.

Yongwen told us that we had “a chance”.  This Spring had been a little warmer than usual.  His visit with us would be the first time he had looked for the birds this year.  If successful, we would be the first people to see Blackthroat in 2013.

Our day began as a typical Spring day in Shaanxi – overcast with the threat of rain and a little chilly in a brisk breeze.  Not ideal conditions to look for a skulking robin but not terrible either – it is not uncommon for rain to last days in this part of the world in Spring.

We drove from our hotel in the “ancient” town of Huayang (which looked about 5 years old!) into the core reserve area.  The ‘road’ was an old logging track that took us into the heart of some superb habitat.  The forest in the reserve is mostly mature secondary growth with generous areas of bamboo.  In addition to Blackthroat, the reserve hosts around 100 Giant Pandas as well as Takin, Goral, Serow, Wild Boar and Tufted Deer.  The chances of seeing Giant Panda in the wild at this time of year are slim, with the trees in full leaf, but we did see evidence – panda poo!

Giant Panda poo... our closest encounter with this special mammal.

Giant Panda poo… our closest encounter with this special mammal.

After an hour’s drive, including seeing a couple of Golden Pheasants by the side of the road, we stopped at the edge of a small valley – “Wo Wo Dian” at an altitude of 2,200-2,400 metres.  It was along this valley that Blackthroat was found in 2011 and seen subsequently in 2012.  Fortunately the rain was holding off and we began the short walk to the prime area.  The sense of excitement among the group was palpable.

Blackthroat habitat

Blackthroat habitat

The search was focused on areas of dense bamboo alongside a small stream. The constant sound of running water muffled any birdsong, making it difficult to hear and identify any birds along the way…  At the first patch of bamboo, just a few hundred metres along the valley, we had a frustrating glimpse of a robin running along the ground.. but it was so deep in the bamboo that it just looked like a black shape and, after waiting patiently for 20 minutes or so, Yongwen said that the best area was further up, so we moved on…

The next stand of bamboo looked good – it was relatively open and, with a low vantage point gained by standing in the rocky stream, it was easier to see any movement.  We soon heard a robin singing…  and it sounded similar, if not identical, to the sound recordings we had of Blackthroat…  our hearts jumped.  It wasn’t long before we spotted a robin at the base of the bamboo, deep inside the thicket, and after a frustrating few minutes of half-glimpses and flight views, it finally sat up and sang from a rock – FIRETHROAT!  A robin, and a fantastic bird at that, but not the bird we were looking for…  Although disappointing that it wasn’t a Blackthroat, we were encouraged that this bird was on territory…  would this sighting suggest that the related Blackthroat was also back?

Firethroat (Luscinia pectardens), Changqing National Nature Reserve, Shaanxi Province.  We felt bad at being disappointed to see this stunning bird!

Firethroat (Luscinia pectardens), Changqing National Nature Reserve, Shaanxi Province. We felt bad at being disappointed to see this stunning bird!  We later learned that this could be the most northerly record of Firethroat ever recorded.

Onwards we walked to the next area… constantly alert to listen for any song.  After no joy at the next couple of stands of bamboo, I began to feel a little deflated…  had we arrived just a day or two too early?

The deflated feeling didn’t last long…  as we turned a corner, Sid heard what he thought was a short burst of Blackthroat song and, standing absolutely still and turning our heads to one side, we all heard what sounded like the beginning of Blackthroat song…  but it was distant and barely audible above the sound of the running water…  could it be one?  Or was it another mimicking Firethroat?  We daren’t presume anything but one could sense the excitement among the group.  We edged down a bank towards the location of the sound and, sure enough, we began to hear more of the song above the sound of the stream…  it matched very closely the recording we had.  The song was clearly coming from the opposite side of the stream, so we edged to the bank and sat quietly, hoping that the bird would reveal itself…  First, there was a fleeting glimpse of a dark shape in the bamboo… it was a robin.  Then a second glimpse.. but both times it was gone before we could get onto it with binoculars..  A few seconds later it flew to a moss-covered rock and sang, just for a second, before diving into cover again..  There was stunned silence.. we looked at each other and smiled… we had all seen a male BLACKTHROAT!  Wow…(or maybe I should say “BOOM!”).  For the next couple of minutes, we sat in awe as the Blackthroat moved to several different song posts, delivered a short burst of song and then dived back into cover…

The scene of our first sighting of Blackthroat.

The scene of our first sighting of Blackthroat.

Whilst my attempts at photographing Blackthroat resulted in blurred twigs and images of the space where the bird had been just a split-second before, Rob managed to secure the image at the beginning of this post.  It’s an image that captures the essence of our experience – fleeting glimpses of an enigmatic and elusive bird in thick bamboo in poor light…  Sharp, in-focus, full-frame photographs are over-rated!

After enjoying this bird for some time, we continued up the valley and encountered several more birds..  all were elusive and, although we heard at least 5 individuals, we only saw one more definite Blackthroat.  Mr Zhang also pointed out an old nest from 2012 – possibly the only nest ever discovered.

A Blackthroat nest from 2012.  Situated on a steep bank.

A Blackthroat nest from 2012. Situated on a steep bank.

The elusiveness of this bird surprised me a little.  I had expected newly arrived Blackthroat males to be more obvious…  maybe it was the weather conditions (overcast and a little breezy) that suppressed their activity or maybe they are louder and more obvious when the females arrive..  I don’t know..

In any case, I am very grateful to Sid for picking up the faint song of the first Blackthroat we saw and to Mr Zhang for his expert company throughout the day.  I am also grateful to Per Alström and Paul Holt who provided information about Blackthroat ahead of our visit.  Finally, a big thank you to Jonathan and Rob for their company on what was an outstanding trip to Sichuan and Shaanxi that ended on this magnificent high.

If anyone is heading this way and wants to explore the option of visiting Changqing National Nature Reserve to see this bird, please feel free to contact me or Sid Francis for advice.

Merganser Bonanza

Red-breasted, Common (Goosander) and Scaly-sided Mergansers, Yalu River, Liaoning Province, China.  Photo by Liu Mingyu

Red-breasted, Common (Goosander) and Scaly-sided Mergansers, Yalu River, Liaoning Province, China. Photo by Liu Mingyu

By Terry

This special photo was taken by Liu Mingyu on the Yalu River, Liaoning Province in China during a birding trip with good friend, Bai Qingquan from Dandong.  And what a photo it is…  it features three species of merganser – Red-breasted, Common (Goosander) and Scaly-sided.  There cannot be many places in the world where this image is possible!

The Scaly-sided Merganser (Mergus squamatus) is an East Asia speciality.  It is classified as “Endangered” by BirdLife International as it has a restricted range and is thought to be declining fast.  The Yalu River, running along the border between North Korea and China, is a reliable place for this species in spring and autumn as these birds make their way to and from their breeding grounds in far northeast China and eastern Russia (and possibly DPRK).

There are ongoing efforts to help this species with the formation of the Scaly-sided Merganser task force and Birds Korea has been working hard to survey the small population of Scaly-sided Mergansers in South Korea in winter.  You can see more images of Scaly-sided Merganser, including some stunning males, here.  Let’s hope this species recovers so that we can see more images like this!