#410 Mandarin Duck

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Peking Duck is everywhere in this town, but live ducks are much harder to find. Beijing sadly does not have a large semi-native park like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, or Manhattan’s Central Park. Instead they have a number of smaller palaces and temples surrounded by carefully planned and manicured gardens. This just doesn’t make for very good habitat, or even migratory stopover points.

After leaving Sicha Hai on Friday, I stumbled into Behai Park. It looked pleasant so I paid the 10 yuan admission and entered. Unfortunately from a birding perspective this proved to be another collection of old temples and other buildings. There were few birds except for the ubiquitous Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Some of the temples were quite impressive, but the only real garden area was closed.

After exploring the temples on the east side of the lake, I bought a ticket to cross to the west side and the Jade Islet. At this point I had pretty much given up on finding any more birds today, and had capped my binoculars. However, while I was standing in line waiting for the boat, two small ducks flew by heading South very quickly. I tried to get my bins uncapped fast, but only got a very quick look at them. My general impression was “Wood Duck”.

Wood Ducks are a North American species that doesn’t live here in China, but they do have a close relative over here: the Mandarin Duck. Unfortunately I couldn’t really be sure from such a quick look at flying birds. I almost got out of line to see if maybe they’d landed somewhere south of us, but by this point I’s already waited fifteen minutes and the boat was finally coming. Sine I hadn’t seen them land, I decided to just go on across the lake.

On the Jade Islet, I climbed up to the White Dagoba, and back down through some caves. I’m not sure I was supposed to exit the caves where I did, but no one stopped me. (I really didn’t feel like climbing all the way back up.) I walked over to the bridge connecting the Islet to the mainland, and there I spotted the first ducks I’d seen swimming anywhere in the central lakes. This time I had my binoculars ready, and put them on the birds almost immediately. There they were: unmistakable Mandarin Ducks.

Male and female Mandarin Duck

#407 and 408 at the Base of the Santa Ana Mountains

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I spent some time looking for Black-headed Grosbeak last May in San Francisco without success. Who knows? Maybe I even saw it but didn’t recognize it. I certainly didn’t recognize life bird #407 in Santiago Oaks two weeks ago on a Sea & Sage trip led by Linette Lina. However I did at least recognize that i twas something weird when I saw it. My first reaction as Oriole. My second was Robin. My third was Bluebird, and all this within the space of a couple of seconds. That should have clued me in that I had something new. Fortunately Linette recognized it as soon as I pointed it out as a Black-headed Grosbeak.

Migration hadn’t quite fully kicked off yet, but we had a more than respectable showing with over 30 species:

Why Doesn’t John Updike have a Nobel Prize Yet?

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Can someone explain to me why John Updike doesn’t have the Nobel Prize yet? I just got around to reading Bech: A Book, and was once again transfixed by Updike’s command of the English language. There may well be authors in other languages who deserve the Nobel in Literature more than he does, but I can’t think of one still alive and writing in English.

The man’s pushing 80. He may not have that many years left. Can’t we get him one before it’s too late? Surely if Nobels can go to Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison, there’s room for an Updike?

Beijing Rain

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Sunday morning and it’s raining. I figure I’ll give it an hour to stop or calm down before I give up and head out anyway. I neglected to pack an umbrella. However I bought one easily enough at a little convenience store down the street. It was 26 Yuan (about $4) which struck me as a trifle expensive, but when I opened it I discovered it was actually a really large, solid umbrella, of the sort that sells for $20 or more in the states, not one of the cheap $3 umbrellas that magically on every street corner in Manhattan as soon as the rain starts.

Prices here are quite cheap. A couple of days ago lunch was an amazing duck sandwich from a little hole in the wall bakery in Shicha Hai for 4 Yuan (about 65 cents). A couple of times I’ve known I was getting a bad deal (a 10 Yuan Diet Coke, a $100 Yuan one hour cab ride), but I haven’t bothered to haggle because the price was at worst in line with New York prices, and usually cheaper still. If you bother to haggle at all, the price drops fast. If you don’t like haggling, just look for stores that use scanners on major streets. Then the price is whatever’s been entered in the computer, not whatever the clerk thinks he/she can get away with.

Fox News China

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

The Chinese-language television channels in our hotel seem to be split into news, music, and various historical dramas. The dramas are roughly half Kung Fu, half soap opera. The only modern drama we’ve caught is one that we could best interpret as Chinese Law and Order; but otherwise China does seem to prefer drama set in the pre-revolutionary past. Whether this reflects the preferences of the viewers, the producers, or the government censors, I don’t know.

At least one of the dramas we caught came from Hong Kong. It took me a few minutes to figure out why the actors’ lips were as badly out of sync as in any Saturday afternoon Kung Fu movie on WGNO: this was a Cantonese movie from Hong Kong! Only this time it was dubbed into Mandarin instead of English.

The one English language channel at our hotel is CCTV 9, which brings new meaning to the motto “Fair and Balanced”. This is like a Chinese version of Fox News, only without the entertainment value. Right now they seem to be obsessed with two stories: the class system in Tibet before China “liberated” it in 1955, and the various protests against Beijing hosting the Olympics.

Visiting China’s Other Great Wall

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

English Wikipedia is mostly available from here in Beijing but there are some notable exceptions:

The connection to the server was reset while the page was loading.                                     *   The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy. Try again in a few           moments.      *   If you are unable to load any pages, check your computer’s network           connection.      *   If your computer or network is protected by a firewall or proxy, make sure           that Firefox is permitted to access the Web.

I’ve also noticed that although I can get through to some parts of IBiblio, I can’t reach others, including Cafe au Lait and Cafe con Leche. I can get e-mail from IBiblio but not use SFTP (which explains why those sites are fairly static at the moment.)

I knew I should have set up that VPN before I left the states.