Are these birds in China really a different species from those we have here in the Algarve? We have blogged before on this subject here when the issue was of no more than of academic interest. Now, having seen them both, I suppose I have to decide whether or not my life list is increased by this latest sighting. Do I follow the taxonomy of the IOC and Handbook of the Birds of the World or do I follow Clements and Birdlife International? To tick or not to tick, that is the question! At the moment, I’m inclined not to tick but I’m open to persuasion.
The four-hour bus journey to Qinhuangdao and the shorter minibus ride from there to Beidaihe produced very few birds of note but when we arrived at the Jinshan Hotel there were plenty to see right there in the hotel grounds. Some were resident species like the flashy Red-billed Blue Magpie, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow, Light-vented Bulbul and Eastern Great Tit, with the last of these also presenting a taxonomic dilemma as it is regarded by some as a separate species from Parus major, sometimes referred to as Japanese Tit.
There were also quite a few migrants: Olive-backed Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Brown Shrike, Eurasian Wryneck, Black-faced Bunting and, best of all, a male Siberian Rubythroat. My only previous Dusky Warbler had been a glimpse of one at Sheepwash Urban Park in the West Midlands on a typically gloomy November day in 1996 so I was pleased with a proper look at that. I was also happier with the Black-faced Bunting than I was with the long-staying individual at Pennington Flash in 1994 that was accepted on to the British List but which I remember thinking at the time might have been an escape from captivity.
Next morning, before breakfast, we made the first of several visits to the nearby Friendship Hotel which has grounds even more extensive than those at the Jinshan. It proved to be a good morning for thrushes with Grey-backed, White’s, Chinese and Dusky plus a Naumann’s x Dusky intergrade. There was also a nice view of a spiffy male Taiga Flycatcher.
Dusky x Naumann's Thrush intergrade
The grounds of the two hotels and/or the nearby Lighthouse Point were visited before breakfast on five subsequent mornings during our stay but there was never again anything approaching the numbers and variety of migrants that we found on the afternoon of our arrival and the following morning. Having read before the trip several accounts of spectacular falls of migrants at these sites on exactly these dates in previous years it was, to say the least, a disappointment that we had managed to pick a period to be there when so few birds were present. It was a disappointment that we shared with quite a few other visiting birders but that was little consolation. However, I know only too well from similar experience in High Island, Texas that spring migration is different every year and that weather conditions are all important. There is nothing you can do about it.
Fortunately, there was more to this trip than just mornings around Beidaihe….