Tag Archives: Liaoning

On Luck and Sea Eagles

As Wayne Gretzky once said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

The same applies to birdwatching, of course. You miss 100% of the birds you don’t get out to see. New Years Day 2016 was calm, clear, and bitingly cold. The weather report said -9C | 15F but you can always knock a few more degrees off for my side of town which doesn’t suffer from the Urban Heat Island effect.

Rather than do the sane thing and sleep-in on such a frigid morning, I made a thermos of coffee and staggered out of the house and into the SUV with loyal Spider to pop down to the riverbank for some scoping.

There’s very little open water remaining this late in winter, and once the river ices up completely the ducks will move on. This was one of my last chances to look for lost or (very) late migrants. My efforts were not to be in vain! Continue reading On Luck and Sea Eagles

参观棋盘山的向阳寺 – Visiting Qipanshan’s “Sun-facing Temple”

In late June, when Spider was only three weeks old, I took advantage of a beautiful morning to drag the entire group – wife, M-I-L, son, and puppy – to the nearby Xiangyang Temple for some fresh air.

Xiangyang Temple (向阳寺), literally “Sun-facing Temple”, overlooks the southwestern reaches of Qipanshan lake. You can see the temple and surrounding area for yourself via Google Earth if you input the following coordinates in GE’s search bar:

41°55’52.75″ N, 123°38’41.75″ E

According to the temple’s own history, it was built around 500 years ago. I declare that unlikely on the grounds that this part of China was very sparsely populated during the time claimed. Things didn’t start really happening around here until the Manchus declared Shenyang their capital in the 1600s. Furthermore, whatever structures may have existed by the 20th century were almost certainly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution as part of the “Four Olds” campaign by the Red Guards and other associated geniuses. That all the buildings on the grounds look brand-spanking new (and probably are) does not in any way detract from the experience, however! The architecture is still lovely.

View of the main gate from the upper parking lot
View of the main gate from the upper parking lot

Continue reading 参观棋盘山的向阳寺 – Visiting Qipanshan’s “Sun-facing Temple”

Drew Builds a Duck Blind

I went birding at Huanzidong Reservoir a couple of weeks ago and found the water level way, way down. Hundreds of meters of mudflats were exposed. This attracts all sorts of birdlife, but leaves the hopeful birder no place to hide. Even with a spotting scope, trying to identify sandpipers at 300m totally sucks.

Rubbing salt in the wound, over the summer some local government genius spent who knows how much money building this fucking awesome bird-watching tower:

A lovely design except for the fact that it's sited a kilometer from the water's edge.
A lovely design except for the fact that it’s sited a kilometer from the water’s edge.

But they forget to put it anywhere remotely near the reservoir so now it’s a fucking awesome corn-watching tower.

Looking ahead to the upcoming arrival of the Siberian Cranes, I decided to take drastic action: I would build a duck blind.

Continue reading Drew Builds a Duck Blind

Siberian Cranes At Huanzidong Reservoir – 辽宁省獾子洞水库的白鹤

Surrounded by rolling cornfields, Huanzidong (“Badger Hole”) Reservoir is located nearly two hours NNW of Shenyang and would be just another unremarkable impoundment if not for one very remarkable fact: it is the premier migratory corridor rest stop in NE China for the critically endangered Siberian Crane.

Continue reading Siberian Cranes At Huanzidong Reservoir – 辽宁省獾子洞水库的白鹤

Reflections on 100 Birding Checklists in China

On October 18th I logged my 100th eBird checklist in China. Truly, this puts me in rare company – there are only four of us with 100 or more lists. Among them my friend Tom Beeke over in Dalian towers above all of us as he steadily closes in on 300. In celebration of my “Chinese Century” I took some time to analyze all 103 of my China lists to date.

Continue reading Reflections on 100 Birding Checklists in China

Of Oceans and Ancient Burial Grounds

“Goddamn, what a righteous stench…” the nose, olfactory observer of the world, had picked up on a shift in the breeze and brought 20 years’ memories of life at the shore flooding back into my consciousness. After more than 2 years away, the longest absence of my life by far, I was once again in sight of the ocean. I’ll share a secret with you – despite what maps and textbooks and cartographers are desperate to convince you, there is only one ocean. It spans the world over, setting out from one edge can take the determined voyager to any other, and its mud flats at low tide have a deliriously powerful stink.

Brine, rotting sealife, and natural gas from organic decomposition in the layers upon layers of silt all combine to create a wonderfully powerful malodor. Driving the 1,250 miles home from Virginia to Florida during my college years, the highlight of the trip was always that first nostril-quivering blast of salty decay as I neared the marshlands of eastern Georgia. It was then that I knew I was getting close, and despite another 500 miles ahead of me, the rest of the trip would always fly by.

Last weekend found me in Beihai – literally “north sea” – a small fishing community several hours SSE of Shenyang, and I was walking out to the rough spit of breakwater the locals proudly called a wharf to inspect the village fishing fleet.

02-fisherman's-parking-lot 03-large-ships-at-lowtide

There are two kinds of fisherman, those who fish for sport and those who fish for life. We are not the same. These old dogs were the latter. I and my wife, led by our hosts – distant relatives many of whom she was meeting for the first time – carefully picked our way past rude brick huts, impromptu garbage dumps, and derelict vessels towards a small but vibrant scene: it was late afternoon and the fishermen were returning with their catch.

Continue reading Of Oceans and Ancient Burial Grounds