Craining Day

25/11/2014 – Poyang Lake

 

Today was one of those days that simply blows your mind… Where to begin?

After another short nights rest and an early breakfast near our hotel in Yong Xiu we drove towards Poyang Lake, the main reason we put together this Epic China trip.

 

Poyang Lake is a very large body of water fed by the Changjiang river. It is the main wintering grounds for multiple globally threatened species, most importantly the critically endangered Siberian Crane. These majestic  1.7 meter tall birds with a population of less than 3600 migrate here every winter from their breeding grounds in the Siberian Taiga. In Fact almost 90 percent (!) of the entire population winter here. They are joined by large numbers of Common Cranes and several hundred Hoodedand Whitenaped Cranes. As you might understand, this is an enormous spectacle that is on top of every birders wish list.

 

Unfortunately the lake is under a lot of pressure as it lies in a densely populated area. This means that people make use of its fertile shores to graze cattle and to grow crops. Bad news for the Cranes and a lot of other wetland species, as the shores get more and more cultivated, there is less and less place for them to go…

 

So everybody was tense as we drove through the pastures towards the lake; would those cranes still be there? As we arrived at the first  observation-tower on the lakeshore it was a big disappointment at first, the water level was too high so we saw no cranes; in fact there were few birds around besides a lone Oriental Stork, another highly endangered species. Luckily soon afterwards we located 2 adults and a juvenile Siberian Crane standing a couple a hundred meters to the right of us. Only moments after we heard a bunting calling close by, which turned out to be the much wanted Chestnuteared Bunting.  After seeing the Siberian Cranes our main target was in the bag, but the hoped for rafts of hundreds of cranes and storks were nowhere to be found…

 

Siberian cranes by Garry Bakker and Arjan Dwarshuis

Siberian cranes by Garry Bakker

 

Again it was our guide, Menxiu, who showed us the way. We drove through a small village, parked the minivan and started walking a muddy track. We cleared a small ridge and suddenly there it was; a large shallow lake filled with birds. Most striking were numerous white birds on the far side of the lake. We first thought that it was a group of the common Bewick’s Swan, but after a close inspection with the telescope the white spots turned into a huge flock of Siberian Cranes, Oriental Storks, several Whitenaped Cranes and Eurasian Spoonbills. Among them were numerous Bewick’s Swans, Swan-, Eastern Greylag, Middendorf’s Bean-, Tundra Beanand Greater whitefronted Geese and thousands of waders. As we walked through the wet grassland and reeds across the lakeshore towards this spectacle we tried to role the tape for Marsh Grassbird and within moments we got a response. Soon we all enjoyed fantastic views of this often difficult species while an immature male Pied Harrier glided past in the background…As anyone who has ever taken an interest in birds might understand we were as happy as Snoop Doggy Dog in an Amsterdam coffeeshop!

 

We counted 650 Siberian Cranes in total, a significant percentage of the world population. Unfortunately there were only 27 juveniles, so  only 4 percent. A very low number, which indicates a low breeding success…

After finishing our worse lunch of the trip so far – we could not care less after the amazing spectacle we’d just witnessed – we drove to the other side of the lake. Here we found several rafts of Falcated Duck and a group of 20 Lesser White-fronted Geese among the Greater white-fronts.

 

Hooded cranes by Garry Bakker

Hooded cranes by Garry Bakker

 

However we were still missing one crane, the smaller sized Hooded. Just before we arrived at the far side of the lake we spotted a large group of cranes foraging in a corn field. It turned out to be a group of several hundred Common Cranes joined by about a hundred Hooded and several White-naped Cranes. All the possible cranes at Poyang lake were in the bag! Fantastic!

What a day!

 

Siberian cranes by Garry Bakker

Siberian cranes by Garry Bakker

 

Bean geese by Garry Bakker

Bean geese by Garry Bakker

 

Species list day 6 (underlined are LIFERS)

 

  1. Japanese Quail 1
  2. Common Pheasant
  3. Swan Goose max 75
  4. Tundra Bean Goose
  5. Taiga Bean Goose (Middendorffii)
  6. Greylag Goose (Rubirostris)
  7. Greater White-fronted Goose (Frontalis)
  8. Lesser White-fronted Goose 20
  9. Bewick’s Swan
  10. Falcated Duck 100+
  11. Eurasian Wigeon
  12. Mallard
  13. Eastern spot-billed Duck
  14. Northern Pintail 1
  15. Eurasian Teal
  16. Little Grebe
  17. Great Crested Grebe
  18. Oriental Stork 150+
  19. Eurasian Spoonbill 500+
  20. Eurasian Bittern 1 (Garry)
  21. Grey Heron
  22. Little Egret
  23. Great Cormorant
  24. Eurasian Kestrel
  25. Peregrine 2
  26. Black-shouldered Kite 2
  27. Eastern Marsh Harrier 5
  28. Pied Harrier 1 1stY male 1 female
  29. Eastern Buzzard 1
  30. Brown Crake 1
  31. Common Moorhen
  32. Siberian Crane 870(!!!)
  33. White-naped Crane 30+
  34. Common Crane 400+
  35. Hooded Crane 150+
  36. Avocet
  37. Northern Lapwing
  38. Kentish Plover
  39. Common Snipe
  40. (Eastern) Black-Tailed Godwit 30
  41. Spotted Redshank
  42. Common Greenshank
  43. Green Sandpiper
  44. Mongolian Gull 1
  45. Black-headed Gull
  46. Spotted Dove
  47. Oriental Turtle Dove
  48. White-Throated Kingfisher
  49. Common Kingfisher
  50. Long-tailed Shrike
  51. Oriental Skylark
  52. Zitting Cisticola
  53. Plain Prinia
  54. Plain-breasted Bulbul
  55. Marsh Grassbird 5
  56. Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler
  57. Yellow-browed Warbler
  58. Vinous-throated Parrotbill
  59. Crested Myna
  60. Black-collared Starling
  61. Red-billed Starling
  62. White-cheeked Starling
  63. Eastern Blackbird
  64. Oriental Magpie Robin
  65. Daurian Redstart
  66. Stejneger’s Stonechat 2
  67. Tree Sparrow
  68. Scaly-breasted Munia
  69. White Wagtail (Leucopsis)
  70. Ridchard’s Pipit
  71. Buff-bellied Pipit
  72. Red-throated Pipit 10
  73. Oriental Greenfinch
  74. Chinese Grosbeak
  75. Chestnut-eared Bunting 2
  76. Black-faced Bunting

 

26/11/2014 – Poyang Lake

 

All the targets were already in the pocket except the near impossible Swinhoe’s Rail, so we decided to spend the whole morning looking for this endangered bird…

 

The reason that this 13 cm small bird is so difficult to find, is because it winters in very low densities in wet grasslands around Poyang Lake and only flies when you nearly step on it. Moreover it is rapidly declining and reliable records are getting  rare. Needless to say, it is like searching for a needle in a haystack.  Still we gave it a go and walked for nearly 4 hours in formation through soaking wet knee high grass in the hope to flush one; a little different from hanging around a swimming pool at the Mediterranean coast all day don’t you think? 😉 But then again we are birders and birders don’t go on holidays, we go on a mission…..

 

Our efforts were – like many birders before us – fruitless. Because we already expected this while planning this mission, we could deal with the pain; especially ‘cause there were about 300 White-naped Cranes and several Siberian-, Hooded– and Common- Cranes standing in the grassland surrounding us.

 

We flushed no rail but our guide Menxiu was quite pleased with 4 Short-eared Owls, a new species for him. Other goodies were a female Hen Harrier, 2 Japanese Quails and 3 Marsh Grassbirds.

 

Chestnut-eared bunting by Garry Bakker

Chestnut-eared bunting by Garry Bakker

 

Marsh grassbird by Garry Bakker

Marsh grassbird by Garry Bakker

 

On the way back we spotted a large group of Rooks foraging on a nearby paddy and we were thrilled to find an adult and 6 juvenile Daurian Jackdaws among them. Another new bird to all of us was a Chinese Grey Shrike.

 

After lunch in Yong Xiu – and after throwing all the water out of our boots – we hit the road again. Our next destination is Wuyuan city, where we will arrive after dark. Tomorrow one of the finest ducks on the planet is on the hit-list…

 

Species list day 7 (underlined are LIFERS)

 

  1. Common Pheasant
  2. Japanese Quail 2
  3. Swan goose 40
  4. Taiga Bean Goose (Middendorffii)
  5. Tundra Bean Goose
  6. Greater white-fronted Goose
  7. Bewick’s Swan
  8. Eastern Spot-billed Duck
  9. Falcated Duck 25
  10. Northern Shoveler
  11. Eurasian Wigeon
  12. Mallard
  13. Eastern spot-billed Duck
  14. Little Grebe
  15. Great Crested Grebe
  16. Oriental Stork 100+
  17. Eurasian Spoonbill 200+
  18. Grey Heron
  19. Little Egret
  20. Great Cormorant
  21. Eurasian Kestrel
  22. Peregrine 1
  23. Black-shouldered Kite 1
  24. Hen Harrier 1 female
  25. Eastern Buzzard 3
  26. Common Moorhen
  27. Siberian Crane 100+
  28. White-naped Crane 300+ (!)
  29. Common Crane 100+
  30. Hooded Crane 50+
  31. Avocet
  32. Northern Lapwing
  33. Common Snipe
  34. Spotted Redshank
  35. Greenshank
  36. Dunlin 1
  37. Black-headed Gull
  38. Spotted Dove
  39. Oriental Turtle Dove
  40. Short-eared Owl
  41. Pied Kingfisher
  42. Eurasian Hoopoe
  43. Long-tailed Shrike
  44. Chinese Grey Shrike 1
  45. Daurian Jackdaw 1 ad 6 juv.
  46. Rook
  47. Eurasian Skylark
  48. Oriental Skylark
  49. Zitting Cisticola
  50. Plain Prinia
  51. Plain-breasted Bulbul
  52. Marsh Grassbird 3
  53. Crested Myna
  54. Black-collared Starling
  55. Red-billed Starling
  56. White-cheeked Starling
  57. Eastern Blackbird
  58. Oriental Magpie Robin
  59. Daurian Redstart
  60. Tree Sparrow
  61. White Wagtail (Leucopsis, Ocularis)
  62. Ridchard’s Pipit
  63. Buff-bellied Pipit
  64. Chinese Grosbeak
  65. Brambling 1
  66. Black-faced Bunting
  67. Little Bunting

 

Oriental storks by Garry Bakker

Oriental storks by Garry Bakker

 

Rail sweeping by Garry Bakker

Rail sweeping by Garry Bakker

 

Siberian Cranes 2 by Garry Bakker

Siberian Cranes by Garry Bakker

 

Hooded cranes 2 by Garry Bakker

Hooded cranes by Garry Bakker

 

Oriental stork by Garry Bakker

Oriental stork by Garry Bakker

 

Happy birding!

Arjan Dwarshuis
Arjan Dwarshuis
birding@arjandwarshuis.com