I was ostensibly taking a day off from birding. But I don’t think birders ever truly relax their watchfulness. Lady Gannet complains about my driving in that I spend more time with my eyes on the skies than on the road ahead. Even when I take her for dinner, she knows to wrap up warm because I always prefer to sit outside, just in case something flies over. But today, Lady G was off with her ladies that letch and I was on my way to the Great Wall of China with a colleague.
I still had the camera and binoculars, just in case and got lucky in the form of a life-ticked, Snowy-browed Nuthatch.
The Great Wall has been maintained, rebuilt and made accessible at strategic sites along its ridiculous length. Depending on your definition of wall it could be considered to be from 3,889 miles to 13,171 miles. The section that I visited with my colleague, Jon, was a 1.4 mile stretch at Mutianyu, also visited by Michele Obama in 2014.
The extraordinary challenges of terrain and maintaining resources that are inherent in such a project were astonishing enough to distract me from the skies for a while. Modern day challenges, such as vandalism have been met with a neat solution. Invading hordes of tourists are welcome to use the silk graffiti walls which have been placed at the top of the watchtowers.
But the birds soon asserted themselves on the day. Eurasian Magpies and Large-billed Crows were common flyovers and the wooded slopes either side of the wall were alive with birdsong. Oriental Greenfinches used the wires to perch and a Plain Laughingthrush picked through the leaf litter on this cold November morning.
The precipitously steep steps that climb the mountainside took their toll on my smoke-blackened lungs and I stopped for a moment, hanging out through one of the defensive gaps in the fortifications. In a stroke of luck, the nuthatch was feeding from pine cones right in front of me. This was to have been my target tick for the next day’s birding trip. How fortuitous is that?
Better still, as we were returning, a pair of the birds were feeding from a pine tree that had grown above and across the wall allowing the closest of views.
My list for the day included around a dozen birds and one life tick. Not bad for a non-birding day out.