25/08/2004
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The Magic Wood in Beidaihe (will it disappear?)

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Our tour party left Beidaihe, the famous migration hot-spot on the coast of China, on 10 May this year not knowing whether the famous Magic Wood was still in existence.

Because of the SARS outbreak, it had been 2 years since British birders had visited the wood, situated just behind the coast near to Liaoyu Jian Harbour, the departure port for Happy Island. The proximity to the coast ensures that Magic Wood is in an ideal situation to shelter some of the millions of birds that migrate through north-eastern China every spring. There had been rumours that the wood had been cut down; it seems that woodland used by birds in China is a waste of valuable farming space, and without conservation bodies to fight the case many good birding areas have gone under the plough, even though it will be probably pulled by a donkey, mule or cow.

To our delight, the Magic Wood was still there; although there was some evidence of tree felling, many new saplings had been planted to show that someone was caring for the well-being of the wood. The wood itself is small, about the area of 3-4 football pitches, and consists mainly of silver birch of various heights, willow, dense bushy areas, rank grass, wet ditches and open clearings - a mosaic ideal for the shelter of migrating birds.

It was late afternoon on our first visit and we lined up from the far end of the wood to take advantage of the light. The intention was to do a sweep of the wood before splitting up for independent birding. However, on entering, we hardly moved for half an hour, such was the wealth of bird life before us. Every tree and bush had Phylloscopus warblers flicking around and we were soon occupied sorting out the Yellow-browed Warblers from Pallas's Warblers, Two-barred Warblers from the occasional Eastern Crowned Warbler, and the Radde's Warblers from Dusky Warblers that ticked from the undergrowth. Everywhere, Siberian Blue Robins and Siberian Rubythroats seemed to lurk beneath the bushes.

Siberian Rubythroat   Siberian Blue Robin
Siberian Rubythroat
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)
  Siberian Blue Robin
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)

A gaudy Dollarbird did the occasional circuit, a Grey Nightjar broke cover to settle in a nearby tree and an Oriental Scops Owl tried to hide in a dense thicket, while many Brown Flycatchers, Red-throated Flycatchers, fluorescent Yellow-rumped Flycatchers and brilliant Mugimaki Flycatchers pursued their prey around the treetops.

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Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)

It was a mind-boggling experience, there were so many birds to look at, but we eventually worked our way into the wood to settle down and view the birds at even closer quarters. Other birds included Black-naped Orioles, a Japanese Sparrowhawk, Black Drongo, Chestnut-sided White-eye, Blue Magpie, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and White-cheeked Starling. The Magic Wood had not disappointed.

 Rufous-bellied Woodpecker
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)

On arrival next morning we were dismayed to see a massive Hitachi digger entering the wood followed by about 10 dump trucks; we feared the worst, was the Magic Wood about to disappear before our eyes?

It seemed the some serious tree planting was scheduled for the nearby roadsides and the sandy soil of the wood was required to build up the banks of the dykes that run alongside every road. The dump trucks were on piecework and a hectic relay was soon taking place as the digger tore chunks out of the woodland floor, tearing down several mature birch trees in the process; it was strange that these trees were being destroyed in order to supply soil for the planting of new saplings. Fortunately, the digger had gone next day, leaving a scar across one end of the wood, but most was untouched and the birding was not affected.

Disappointingly, there had been no thrushes seen on the first visit but this was soon rectified by spectacular flights of huge White's Thrushes, Eye-browed Thrushes in the treetops, the gaudy White-throated Rock Thrush and the attractive Chinese Song Thrush. A tiny Lanceolated Warbler uncharacteristically perched out in the open and the sibes, warblers and flycatchers of the previous day were still present. The afternoon visit produced even more: the highly prized and beautiful Siberian Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, an elusive Red-flanked Bluetail and Chinese Grosbeak. Next day it was buntings with Yellow-browed Bunting, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Little Bunting, Tristram's Bunting and Chestnut Bunting. Impossibly, things got even better for our last visit which produced Tiger and Bull-headed Shrikes, Thick-billed Warbler and Daurian Starling; we left for the bus, only to be recalled by the discovery of a Manchurian Reed Warbler. As we watched this a Crested Honey Buzzard drifted over being buzzed by an Eastern Marsh Harrier and as we left for the final time, a fabulous Siberian Rubythroat displayed from a nearby field. Sheer ecstacy!

White's Thrush Siberian Thrush
White's Thrush
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)
Siberian Thrush
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)
Lanceolated Warbler Bluethroat
Lanceolated Warbler
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)
Bluethroat
(Mark Andrews/WildWings)

Once again the Magic Wood had produced the goods in spectacular fashion but for how much longer? Across the adjacent dyke and road, a huge area has been cleared and fenced off and an artist's impression on a massive hoarding shows a multi-million dollar leisure complex that has hotels surrounded by landscaped lakes and a golf course where the Magic Wood is now.

With no RSPB type body to fight its corner, the Magic Wood could soon face the final curtain and disappear without trace.

Magic Wood
Written by: Howard Broughton