My family and I are just back from an exciting 2 week holiday in China during which we visited Beijing, Xian and the Guilin area. The map gives a feel for the distances covered and modes of travel.
This was very much a family holiday and not aimed at birding and I left behind my proper bird photography kit and opted instead for a Canon SX50 HS compact superzoom camera to cover the photographic needs of the whole holiday, 24mm to 1200mm in one small package. It has a sluggish LED viewfinder or you can use it like a compact and view the scene on the LCD on the back of the camera. It is slow to respond in comparison to an SLR and focus is reluctant in some settings. I'm sure I got more pics overall than I would have done had I taken my big kit as it was so easy to keep it with me all the time.
I hope you enjoy the following pictures, a mixture of reasonable quality and simply record shots covering the entire tour.
Initially we thought that Beijing was home to only our own variety of magpie but when settled into the hotel, we found the garden to be full of the very beautiful and vocal Azure-winged magpie. The local dove which looked very like our own collared dove in fact turned out to be the spotted dove. A common sight in parks and on rooftops. Another very common bird in Beijing is the tree sparrow which takes on the role of the house sparrow in this busy urban settling. The area we stayed in close to the oldest part of the city was full of parks. The sparrow above was clinging to the eaves of a small temple-like roof over a notice board. While watching this I became aware of fieldfares calling and flying about in their usual manic fashion. However, on hunting one down in the camera lens, I found they were red-throated thrushes instead. Very active and hard to photograph but I got lucky with this one. Next on the list of surprises in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven were some Chinese grosbeak foraging under the conifers. I was very disappointed not to get better shots than these. Great birds! The reason I had been particularly keen to visit the garden of the Temple of Heaven is that there is usually a winter roost of long-eared owls. Unfortunately these were not to be found. One thing we found in China was a distinct lack on ornithologists/birdwatchers. We couldn't just ask someone with a Swarovski scope where we should be looking!
I had high hopes that the Great Wall of China would be a birding hotspot. The slopes seemed to have some small flocks of tits but with the SX50, I just couldn't lock onto any birds before they flew off. On the wall itself we had a wonderful encounter with some remarkably tame alpine accentors. What gorgeous little birds they are.
Xian unfortunately yielded no new bird photos although we had a brief glimpse of a large raptor which we weren't able to identify. The best area by a long way was down in the Guilin region. The monsoon had started but we were lucky and most rain fell at night. There was a very noisy dawn chorus with one of the main contributors being the Chinese bulbul. On a bridge over the river Li in Yangshuo I encountered the plumbeous redstart. This specimen seemed in good spirits but appears on the picture to have a problem with its right foot. Other little birds flitted at high speed through the lush foliage including the Oriental white-eye. Here's a record shot of one that ventured onto a roof momentarily. My daughter drew my attention to a tiny finch rather similar morphologically to a zebra finch. No camera in my hands and gone when I returned. :-(
A cycle ride through the paddy fields yielded flocks of what looked at a brief glance like big goldfinches. When they slowed enough for a picture, they showed themselves to be Oriental greenfinch. Lots of bright yellow flashes when they move. For me the bird of the trip was a long-talied shrike. Disappointing pictures mainly because the camera seemed to find it hard to focus. What a great bird though. The Oriental magpie-robin was present in the same area. Never seemed to stop moving! Our last 24hrs was spent in the hills of Longji in a small village in rice terraces at about 850m elevation. Red-rumped swallows nested in our hotel. Very white looking great tits (?Eastern) roamed the fields with white wagtails. A bird on a cable seems to be a male grey bushchat. One day I'd love to return on a proper birding tour with a guide. Such wonderful scenery and people and I'm sure that if you knew where to look, the full richness of the birdlife of China would be a real eye-opener.