Greetings from Dalian, Liaoning Province, China!
My name is Tom Beeke and I have lived in Dalian (right across the Yellow Sea from the Korean Peninsula) for the past 9 years. I have always been an outdoors person and began to take an interest in birds soon after I arrived in China. While bird photography is becoming more popular in China, birders are few and far between. I know of only 3 birders in the entire province of more than 20 million people! I have only once met another person looking at birds in the field – a photographer taking photos of Oriental Stork at the Jinzhou Bay dump site.
I am blessed to have the patch for birding that I do. Up until now I have recorded 311 species in southern Liaoning and there are many more that are very possible and will come with more time. Life on the bottom of a huge peninsula means that there is always something happening. Migration is incredible to observe here and winter can also turn up some surprises with some birds hesitant to make the water crossing south to Shandong Province. In introducing several of the area that I bird, I must start with Laotieshan.
The area directly at the end of the peninsula is called Laotieshan. Foreigners have only recently been given permission to visit this area because there is a large naval port nearby. Birding at Laotieshan in spring or fall is simply fantastic. During the spring it is the first land that birds come to after crossing the Bo Hai Bay and during the fall the peninsular landscape funnels birds to the tip where huge numbers can be seen. Raptors are particularly visible during fall migration as huge numbers gather and use Laotieshan as a jumping off point. The area is very accessible and remains very under birded. Below are some of the highlights recorded there in the last few years but the area still undoubtedly holds more amazing records. Most of the highlights below are courtesy of Paul Holt and Terry Townshend, both who have been active there in the last few years. Many of these are new Chinese records.
-1605 Streaked Shearwater past the point during a 4.5 hour sea watch.
-1181 Crested Honey Buzzards on September 23, 2012
-446 Japanese Sparrowhawk on September 6, 2012
-16, 000 Black-tailed gulls and 5000 Mongolian Gulls on September 18, 2012
-10 380 Ashy Minivets on September 21, 2012
-1134 White Wagtails on September 11, 2012
-98 Pechora Pipits on September 12, 2012
-3490 Eastern Buzzards on October 12, 2011
-1830 Amur Falcons on October 10, 2011
-4500 estimated Japanese White-eyes per day in early October.
-700 Black-faced Buntings on October 8, 2011
Laotieshan often puts new meaning to the phrase “a slow day”. The area simply is pumping with birds, particularly in the fall. During spring migration, the birding is also excellent but the numbers aren’t nearly as high as they are in the fall. During the spring, such specialties as Yellow-legged Buttonquail, Japanese Grosbeak (hard to see in China), Saker Falcon, White-throated Needletail, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Northern House Martin, and Hume’s Warbler have all been seen there in addition to all of the other east Asian migrants.
This is the district of Dalian where I live. In China, it is one of a few areas with National Holiday Resort status. Jinshitan consists of a small community of people, forested mountains, wetlands, rocky coastal areas, coastal mudflat, and several nice beaches. It is, in itself, and small peninsula that sticks out into the Yellow Sea. I mainly bird this area because of its proximity to my house and I often only have 1 hour or so to bird after work. The area is undergoing rapid growth and expansion (as is almost every area in China) to my dismay. I often bird a series of tidal sea-farming ponds located in a small bay with a main fresh water river channel running through it.
I have seen 300 species right in the Jinshitan area over the years. Major highlights in Jinshitan have been Baer’s Pochard and Cotton Pygmy Goose. Highlights for Korean birders would be the locally common Chinese Hill Warblers (I can whistle their call and bring them right in to my feet), Marsh Grassbirds, etc. The Jinshitan area also has incredible moments during migration. Perhaps the peak dates in spring for most species seen in a day would be the last few days of April and the first few of May. During the fall I have began to climb a small mountain and sit there for the entire morning simply watching raptors and passerines moving around me. Jinshitan would get many of the species that Loatieshan has but in far less abundance.
This site consists of a huge area of rice fields that attracts Cranes, Storks, Swans, etc.. during the winter. The area is about 1 hour from my house and I often visit it around Christmas and the months following. Up to 300 Common Cranes winter here and there are usually a few Hooded Cranes mixed in as well. Around 10 Oriental Stork are usually seen there every year with one exception where I counted over 50 one day last winter. Whooper Swans, large numbers of Common Pochard and Ruddy Shelduck, and other ducks can be seen in a large river there until the entire area completely freezes in around early January. This is a regular wintering area of Japanese Reed Bunting with over 50 counted in one afternoon in one small field there last year. One surprise last winter in that area was over 100 Pine Bunting. Like many other areas, the Wafangdian rice fields are also incredibly under birded.
Yellow Sea Coast:
The coast line on the east side of the peninsula has been completely opened up within the last 3 years by way of a coastal road connecting Dalian to Dandong (Chinese border city with North Korea). This new road follows the coast the entire way and is therefore very convenient for bird-watching. The coast here has lots and lots of mudflat where almost every east Asian shorebird species can be seen annually. A minimum of 3 Spoon-billed Sandpipers were reported from the Dandong area last spring. Nordmann’s Greenshank is uncommon but regular in groups of 30 or more near Dandong as well. Asian Dowitcher, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Little Curlew, Red Knot, Far Eastern Oystercatcher, and Grey-tailed Tattler are all uncommon but can be seen along this coast. Many flagged Godwits from Australia have been observed here during migration time and reported to the very pleased authorities there! Large numbers of Godwits, Dunlin, Red-necked Stints, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, etc. can be seen out on the mudflats during both spring and fall. Black-faced Spoonbill breed on a small island off the coast from the city of Zhuanghe which is roughly half way between Dalian and Dandong. Thousands of gulls, Pelagic and Great Cormorants, and egrets use the many islands along this coast to breed as well. Nearly 100 Chinese Egrets were counted from Dalian to Zhuanghe (about a 1.5 hour drive) feeding in the coastal areas. It is also near the Zhuanghe City Port where Paul Holt discovered over 1000 Relict Gulls wintering last year. I was at the site in early Feb. 2013 and again recorded around 800 Relict Gulls feeding on the mudflat there. Long-tailed Duck are also a good regular winter species there.
Jinzhou Bay Dump:
As is the case with many dump sites around the world, this area attracts gulls. Several thousand can be seen there during the winter. They are mostly Mongolian Gulls but others do mix in. I have recorded 10 gull species there in one day several years ago. There is a Pallas’s Gull that has wintered there in each of the past 3 years. I saw my only record of Little Gull there in mid March. In addition to the gulls, White-tailed Sea Eagles keep watch over a large group of Ruddy Shelduck, Spot-billed Duck, and Mallards that feed where a sewage channel empties into the ocean at the same location. You can image the smell when everything is not frozen there! The ocean freezes as far as can be seen there each year and the Eagles often sit out on the ice feeding on sick ducks/gulls, garbage, and whatever else they can find. Oriental Storks also winter there in small numbers in some years. The entire area there is certainly a destination for anyone who is interested in East Asian gulls.
I have a thread about my observations on the China section of birdforum at http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=165968
Here is a Liaoning trip report by Terry Townshend and Spike Millington:
There is much more to share about the Dalian area but a lot of it has already been put to print (over 30 pages on birdforum) at the web address above.
I can be reached at email@example.com for more information.