#414-416 at the Beijing Zoo

Zoos can be surprisingly good places to see birds. Of course, you aren’t allowed to count the specimens in cages, waterfowl with clipped wings, and other members of the collection. However in a dense city like the Beijing or the Bronx, the zoo can can be a real oasis for passing or even resident wild birds. There tends to be a lot more green space, water, food, and habitat than anywhere else for miles around.

Wednesday, Day 7, the conference was over so Beth and I hopped a cab to the Beijing Zoo. We had been warned that it was not up to Western standards and that was certainly true. In fact, some of the exhibits can be a little depressing. In many ways, this is roughly on a par with the Audubon Park Zoo in the bad old days of the 1970s. Some sections were clearly better than others, and there was a lot of construction going on, so matters are improving. Indeed, it was a construction site that gave me the first life bird of the day, a Crested Myna, #414. As you may recall, I’d had hints of these birds at earlier sites, but wasn’t sure because the field guide said they weren’t as far north as Beijing. The field guide was clearly wrong.

The second bird we found over in Africa, a Spotted Dove. I’d likely see two of these the previous day at the Old Summer Palace, but only on a quick flyby. This time when I saw a dove, I was ready and knew what to look for. The iridescent patch on the neck clearly identified this as a Spotted Dove, #415.


A little further along some wild crows were taking advantage of various zoo animals’ food. Behind bars, they were mostly unconcerned with the onlooking people so consequently I was able to get very close, good looks and establish once and for all that these were indeed Corvus macroryhnchos, the Thick-billed Crow, not Carrion Crows. Features like head shape that are apparent on a standing crow three meters in front of you are not so easy to spot on a flying bird or one high up in a tree.

4 Thick-billed crows behind a fence eaiting out of pan

Our penultimate stop at the Zoo was the ponds where numerous waterfowl and herons were present: Bar-headed Geese, Whooper Swans, Grey Herons, Mandarin Ducks, Dalmatian Pelicans, Ruddy Shelducks, Common Shelducks, and some as yet unidentified cranes. Unfortunately, these were all collection members, likely with clipped wings, so none of them were countable. However, the same site attracted several flying and wild Azure-winged Magpies, Crested Mynas and Black-tailed Gulls. The latter eventually flew off high into the sky so I’m confident it was a wild bird and #416, my last lifer for the trip.

These were also the only gulls I saw the entire trip. It’s a little surprising no gulls have adapted to city life the way Ring-billed, Herring, and California Gulls have in the states. Maybe the few water bodies are just too polluted for them to be comfortable here in Beijing.

The final stop at the Zoo were the obligatory Giant Pandas, which were as cute as expected:

Giant Panda in tree

I could have spent the entire day at the Zoo, but Beth doesn’t have the same tolerance for it as I do, so instead we took a cab to a neighborhood that specialized in musical instruments to look for a soma? (not sure about the pinyin spelling or even the name). I inspected a few caged mynas and parrots being sold on the street, while Beth attempted to explain that she wanted sheet music for traditional Chinese music but in Western notation. This was a fairly hopeless errand, but she did eventually find some folks songs.

Afterwards, we cabbed it back to the conservatory and hotel for an early dinner before the opera that evening.

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