1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

The Catcher in the Rice

Setting the trap

I got up at 5.30am and drove down to the Wenyu river, which forms the border between the Chaoyang district of “central” Beijing and the Shunyi district of “outer” Beijing.  On my regular morning excursions there, I never cross over from the Chaoyang side, as I prefer to record anything of interest as “seen in central Beijing”.  It was a glorious morning: The sky was cobalt blue, there wasn’t a breath of wind, and many newly-arrived Oriental Reed Warblers, hidden away in the lush paddyfields by the river, were in fine voice.  A beautiful Yellow Bittern, my first sighting of this species this year, flew out of the rice-bed just in front of me and treated me to an wonderful flypast before it dived back down to – no doubt – continue its hunt for breakfast.

  I’ve been watching and photographing birds in Beijing for 16 years and it still continues to amaze me how rich “central” Beijing’s birdlife really is.  Since the beginning of last year, I have seen more than 100 species at this one site, including two male Red-Crested Pochards, a species that usually gets no further east than central Asia; a Bewick’s Swan on its way south after spending the summer on the Russian shores of the Arctic Ocean; a small flock of Swan Geese probably on their way to Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province; and several Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers taking a breather on their long journey from south-east Asia to places perhaps more than a thousand miles north-east of here.

  Visits to other places in “central” Beijing this year have been equally rewarding: On one early-spring morning, at Yiheyuan (the Summer Palace) – one of Beijing’s biggest tourist attractions – I (and numerous passers by) took photographs of some of the 144 swans of three species that had rested on the lake there (133 Whoopers, 10 Bewick’s, and a single Mute Swan, a very rare visitor this far east).  Chaoyang Park, Beijing’s biggest and busiest park, has continued to delight, with a Siberian Rubythroat, several Red-flanked Bluetails, and a flock of Siberian Accentors high on the list of memorable birds.

  Birding in Beijing doesn’t get much better, though, than the morning I enjoyed in January this year a few miles south of the Marco Polo bridge, where I managed to get some quite reasonable photographs of a flock of Mongolian Larks and half-a-dozen Pallas’s Sandgrouse, which are usually denizens of the central Asian deserts (Many thanks to Xiaoming, one of the growing band of very keen and skilled local birders, for inviting me to join him and his friends on what turned out to be a successful search for these two usually very difficult to see species).

  But on the minus side: The loss of habitat continues at a frightening pace.  My local patch is hanging on against the odds while, just south of there, land-usage “transfers” have resulted in bulldozers moving within earshot of the paddyfields.  Beijing’s migrant and breeding birds face other perils too:  A few weeks ago, also on the Chaoyang side of the Wenyu River, my wife and I confiscated two boys’ catapults after we saw them trying to shoot birds out of the sky. 


  This morning, in just about the same place, I saw someone doing something that turned my positive impression of the morning on its head.  I watched through binoculars as a man waded into the paddyfields near to where the Yellow Bittern had landed and proceeded to erect a long “mist” net, using bamboo poles to support it.  Over many years in China I’ve witnessed many instances of these contraptions causing death and injury.  Usually I see the aftermath – the less marketable birds (the ones that don’t sing, aren’t brightly coloured, or can’t be eaten) are often left to hang there because the bird-catcher doesn’t want to waste time untangling them from the fine mesh that ensnares them.  This time, I was there before any damage could be done and I was determined to tell the man what I thought of him and his type.  I approached him from the east, with the low morning sun at my back.  Eventually he saw me.

  "Hand me the net... now!!" I demanded.

  Although not as scary as a gun, the spade he was holding did look a bit menacing.  My demand had clearly fallen on deaf ears because the bird-catcher lifted up the spade and started walking towards me.  Time for either a sharp exit or to stand firm (or at least to pretend to be standing firm): 

  "If you don't give me the net immediately, I'm going to call the police," I shouted out in my gruffest, no-nonsense voice.  This was a bluff of course.  I could imagine the (short) phone call to the emergency 911 number: "Hello, I'm at the Wenyu River, and I've caught someone trying to catch birds in a mist net... and I need you to be here... hello... er... hello..."

  "Now!!" I repeated.  The spade-wielding man continued walking towards me, and then to my great surprise, not to mention even greater relief, he put up his hands. "Please don't call the police," he pleaded.  With that he ran back to the poles in the middle of the paddyfield, tore down the net, and ran to hand it to me.

  I was on a roll, so I thought I’d chance my arm at some Lock, stock and two smoking barrels lines: "I have your photograph," I told him darkly. "If I ever see you in the area again, then it's all over. Tell your mates that the same goes for them. I come here every day. And no one catches birds in my manor."  With more apologies, and something about he'll become a reformed character from now on, he jumped on his cycle and rode off.


  I looked at the net: standard design... long human hair... painstakingly knotted together... days of work.  100 yards down the track, I found another mist net.  But no one was attending it. Were they lurking in the reeds (having watched the showdown I've just described being played out, or was it one prepared earlier by the Catcher I had caught)?  I didn't wait around to find out. I tore down the net –  this one was made of synthetic brown thread – and lined it up next to the one made of human hair. 

  ...Two scalps for the price of one no less.      

Two scalps for the price of one