Wuyipeng and My Progress As a Birder

Wuyipeng Field Monitoring Station is one of the best birding sites in China. Set in thick forest 550 m above the Shaotang River Valley at an elevation of 2570 m, the abandoned panda research station near Wolong, Sichuan is reachable only by foot. The steep climb and complex avifauna intimidate the young birder–but challenge and fulfill the experienced birder.

I know, for I have been both. In July 2010 I made my first visit to Wuyipeng. I was a new birder, alone and untrained. Wuyipeng overwhelmed me. When I returned in 2017, I had seven years of study under my belt, I was with my mentor Michael Grunwell, and we hardly missed a bird.

In 2010 I was hooked on bird photography. I carried to the top my equipment, all 10.5 kg of it. At the time, I had only one way of intensely experiencing a bird–by photographing it. Photography was my sole pathway to intensity because, at the time, I knew little about birds.

Two types of habitat predominate around Wuyipeng. The first (top) is secondary mixed hardwood-conifer. Among the species we noted in this habitat were Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus, Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis, Long-tailed Minivet Pericrocotus ethologus, Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, and Chestnut Thrush Turdus rubrocanus. The second habitat (bottom) is bamboo. Among the species we saw here were Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata, Aberrant Bush Warbler Horornis flavolivaceus, and Golden-breasted Fulvetta Lioparus chrysotis. (Craig Brelsford)
Two types of habitat predominate around the station. Top: mixed hardwood-conifer. Among the species we noted in this habitat were Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus, Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis, Long-tailed Minivet Pericrocotus ethologus, and Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes. Bottom: bamboo. Here we found Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata, Aberrant Bush Warbler Horornis flavolivaceus, and Golden-breasted Fulvetta Lioparus chrysotis. (Craig Brelsford)

The more I learned about birds, the less obsessed I became with photographing them. I developed new ways of relating to birds–observing them closely, studying their habitats, recording their voices, and writing about them.

And crucially, by 2017 I had made friends with birders who know more than I about birds. Michael Grunwell is one of them. Michael has been building his life list since he was a teen-ager in the 1970s. Michael not only knows birds, but he also knows how to know birds.

Like your mother at the grocery store, Michael arrives at a site with a shopping list–his target species. He has read up on the species he wants and knows what to look for.

For example: Michael and I arrive at a creek deep in the forest. “Creekside habo!” I say to Michael. “What’s your target?”

“Play Chinese Wren-babbler,” Michael says.

I pull out my iPhone and find a recording of Chinese Wren-babbler that I downloaded from xeno-canto.org. I Bluetooth it through my speaker, and within seconds I get a response.

Chinese Wren-babbler Pnoepyga mutica, along stream (30.991680, 103.160400) near Wuyipeng Field Monitoring Station, Wolong, Sichuan. Elev. 2570 m. 20 May 2017 (00:03; 1.7 MB)

Had my birding skills remained at the level of 2010, and had I not partly assimilated Michael’s birding style, then I would have missed Chinese Wren-babbler and many other species. I would have been bored, for in the dark, lush forest, photo opportunities are few (and in any case, this time I wisely decided not to lug my camera up the hill). Because I had progressed beyond photography, I was highly stimulated and had a sense of control. It was a great feeling.

The difference in elevation between Jinjiapo (2020 m) and Wuyipeng (2570 m) is 550 m (1,810 ft.). The steep climb is a fromidable barrier and keeps out all but the most dedicated and fit birders. (Craig Brelsford)
The difference in elevation between the valley bottom (2020 m) and Wuyipeng (2570 m) is 550 m (1,810 ft.). The steep climb is a formidable barrier, keeping out all but the most dedicated birders. (Craig Brelsford)

Even a non-birder would feel good up there. Wuyipeng achieves a perfect balance: It is developed just enough to allow access, being one of the few places in the area with a good hiking trail; yet it remains a wilderness, for the steep climb is a formidable barrier, and visitors are few. In 2010 and again in 2017, we saw no one.

Making Wuyipeng even more interesting is the greater region of which it is a part. Sichuan and neighboring Yunnan are, ornithologically speaking, the Center of Asia. Himalaya, Indo-Malaya, Palearctica–like tectonic plates, the great eco-regions collide here. Various groups of birds, most notably the parrotbills, have their center of distribution in or near Sichuan (Robson).

Michael Grunwell viewing mixed flock of six species of tit amid ruins of Wuyipeng Field Monitoring Station, 20 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Michael Grunwell viewing six species of tit amid the ruins of the Wuyipeng Field Monitoring Station. The multimillion-dollar panda research center was abandoned in the wake of the Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008. The station is one of the few open areas in the forest and is an outstanding place to view birds. (Craig Brelsford)

The avian diversity here is unmatched in the temperate world. During a bird wave at the station, a single tree held six species of tit: Fire-capped Tit Cephalopyrus flammiceps, Yellow-browed Tit Sylviparus modestus, Coal Tit Periparus ater, Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus, Pere David’s Tit Poecile davidi, and Green-backed Tit Parus monticolus. That is half as many species of parid in a single tree as are found in the entire United States and Canada.

The mountain also yielded six members of a single genus, Phylloscopus: Chinese Leaf Warbler P. yunnanensis, Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides, Large-billed Leaf Warbler P. magnirostris, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler P. claudiae, Emei Leaf Warbler P. emeiensis, and Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti.

We had Indian Blue Robin at Lama Temple as well as on the steep hillside leading to Wuyipeng. (Craig Brelsford)
At Lama Temple (31.029363, 103.166572), where I got these photos, as well as on the steep hillside leading to Wuyipeng, Michael and I thrilled to the song of Indian Blue Robin Larvivora brunnea. The song, described by Collar as ‘a sweet jumble of rapid trilling notes,’ is similar to the song of Siberian Blue Robin L. cyane, which I studied in Heilongjiang in 2016. Unlike the Siberian Blues I met, which invariably sang from thick cover close to the ground, the Indian Blues we found would often sing from perches high in the trees, as in the photos above. (Craig Brelsford)

We had Firethroat singing in thick undergrowth on the hillside, and just a few meters away a heart-stopping encounter with male Temminck’s Tragopan tiptoeing across the trail. Golden Pheasant called unseen, exquisite Indian Blue Robin and Chestnut-headed Tesia were singing, and Golden-breasted Fulvetta added color. We had a migrating flock of 40 Tibetan Serin.

We noted 49 species in all. Michael called 20 May 2017 one of his best birding days in his four years in China. I called it one of my best birding days, period.

Wuyipeng was the biggest but certainly not the only highlight of our four days, 18-21 May 2017, in the Wolong-Balangshan area. Michael and I covered altitudes between 2000 m and 4500 m on the 79-km stretch of the S303 between Wolong and Rilong. We noted 110 species.

Gamebirds of Balangshan. Clockwise from L: Snow Partridge, White Eared Pheasant, Blood Pheasant. (Craig Brelsford)
Gamebirds of Balangshan. Clockwise from L: Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa, White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon, and Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus. We noted all three species on the trip, but these photos came from earlier in my birding career, when my chief focus was photography. The Snow Partridge I photographed 29 July 2010 above Balangshan Pass (30.9108, 102.8947), the White Eared Pheasant 7 Aug. 2011 at Pujie Temple (29.158287, 100.176267), and the Blood Pheasant 1 Aug. 2011 at Pamuling Temple (30.101555, 101.181815). All three locations are in Sichuan. (Craig Brelsford)

Gamebirds were richly represented. We noted eight species: Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa, Verreaux’s Monal-Partridge Tetraophasis obscurus, Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus, Temminck’s Tragopan Tragopan temminckii, Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha, White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilonGolden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus, and Lady Amherst’s Pheasant C. amherstiae.

At the famous tunnel area (30.877921, 102.966226) we made only a half-hearted effort to see Chinese Monal, which Michael had seen before. Higher up, we looked for but missed Tibetan Snowcock.

To the list of the six leaf-warbler species from Wuyipeng we added Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis, Buff-barred Warbler P. pulcher, and Hume’s Leaf Warbler P. humei, giving us a total of nine over the four days.

We found Collared Grosbeak and Sichuan Thrush along the S303, we spotted Grandala on the slopes at high altitude, and in the alpine scrub we found Sichuan Tit, Chinese Rubythroat, and Chinese Fulvetta.

Sichuan Thrush (Craig Brelsford)
Sichuan Thrush Zoothera griseiceps, Wolong-Balangshan Road (S303), 30.891258, 102.975770 (3380 m), 21 May 2017. This is the second member of the Plain-backed Thrush complex that I have photographed. In June 2014, in collaboration with Per Alström, I photographed Himalayan Thrush Z. salimalii at Dulong Gorge, Yunnan. (Craig Brelsford)

The route from Wolong over the Balangshan Pass to Rilong is a marvel, one of the great drives of China. The new Balangshan Tunnel reduces the driving distance between Wolong and Rilong from 96 km to 79 km.

A series of tunnels linking Wolong to the G213 and Chengdu has been completed, a monumental feat of engineering.

With the improvements in infrastructure, and with the continued expansion of the rental-car industry in China, Wuyipeng and Balangshan are now open to Shanghai birders with only a few days to spare, as was the case with Michael and me.

After a full workday 17 May, we flew that night from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport to Chengdu. We picked up our car from Shenzhou, drove 125 km (three hours) to Wolong, and at daylight on 18 May were taking in the dawn chorus at Lama Temple.

We stayed at the clean Lín Huì Fàndiàn (临惠饭店, +86 153-5143-1887, +86 152-8151-1256). For our night on the Rilong side, I once again used Kāi Fù Shān Zhuāng (开富山庄, +86 150-8250-0382).

We birded half a day on 21 May before calling it a trip.

As Michael and I departed the mountains for Chengdu, zipping through the world-class tunnels, we reviewed the eventful past four days. I thought further back to 2010, when the road to Wolong was bumpy, dusty, and dangerous, and when I knew little about birds.

I have become a better birder. Wuyipeng and Balangshan have become easier places to bird. Progress is occurring, and on more front than one.

VIDEOS

Quiet moments in the forest near Wuyipeng.

In 2010, I carried my heavy equipment to the top. I was laughing even then.

SOUND RECORDINGS

Below, a selection of my sound-recordings from the Sichuan trip. For even more sound-recordings and photos, and for our day lists from Sichuan, please see the eBird citations in the Bibliography below.

Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus, Wuyipeng, 20 May 2017 (00:16; 1.5 MB)

Firethroat Calliope pectardens, trail to Wuyipeng, 20 May. 30.999205, 103.154595. (01:54; 6.1 MB)

Indian Blue Robin Larvivora brunnea, Lama Temple, 18 May (00:43; 2.5 MB)

Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata, Wuyipeng, 20 May (00:48; 3.5 MB)

Sichuan Thrush Zoothera griseiceps, along S303, 21 May. 30.891258, 102.975770. (00:04; 987 KB)

Martens’s Warbler Seicercus omeiensis, Lama Temple, 19 May (02:54; 8.6 MB)

LIST OF PLACE NAMES

Dawn, Wolong-Balangshan Road, 19 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Dawn, tunnel area (30.877921, 102.966226), Wolong-Balangshan Road, 19 May 2017. As well as one of the best birding areas in temperate Asia, Wolong-Balangshan is a place of great natural beauty. (Craig Brelsford)

Balangshan Pass (Bālángshān Kǒu [八郎山口]): mountain divide & birding area, Sichuan. Elev. 4481 m (14,701 ft.). 30.9108, 102.8947.

Lama Monastery: see Lama Temple.

Lama Temple (Lǎma Sì [喇嘛寺]): birding site & place of worship, Wolong. Elev. 2230 m (7,320 ft.). 31.029363, 103.166572.

Rilong (Rìlóng Zhèn [日隆镇]) (30.9935765, 102.8299713): town W of Balangshan Pass on S303. Also known as Sìgūniángshān Zhèn.

Sìgūniángshān Zhèn (四姑娘山镇): another name for Rilong.

Wolong (Wòlóng Zhèn [卧龙镇]): town E of Balangshan Pass on S303. 31.0395827, 103.1984586.

Wuyipeng Field Monitoring Station (Zhōngguó Bǎohù Dàxióngmāo Yánjiū Zhōngxīn, Wǔyīpéng Yěwài Guāncházhàn [中国保护大熊猫研究中心, 五一棚野外观察站]): research center in thick forest near Wolong. Damaged & abandoned after Wenchuan Earthquake of 12 May 2008. Elev. 2570 m (8,430 ft.). 30.994128, 103.159845. Begin your walk at Jīnjiāpō (金家坡, 31.004395, 103.151987). Park your car at any of the local folks’ homes.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brelsford, C. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36952551. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [Web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York, USA. http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: July 15, 2017). Note: This is the first of five lists we made for 18 May 2017. This list covers Lama Monastery.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36954305. Note: This is list 2/5 for 18 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36954394. Note: List 3/5, 18 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36954414. Note: List 4/5, 18 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36954445. Note: List 5/5, 18 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36980196. Note: List 1/6, 19 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36980217. Note: List 2/6, 19 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36980192. Note: List 3/6, 19 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36979053. Note: List 4/6, 19 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36980247. Note: List 5/6, 19 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36978948. Note: List 6/6, 19 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37003578. Note: List of birds noted at Wuyipeng, 20 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37021548. Note: List 1/5, 21 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37022288. Note: List 2/5, 21 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37026720. Note: List 3/5, 21 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37029131. Note: List 4/5, 21 May 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37081320. Note: List 5/5, 21 May 2017.

Collar, N.J. (2005). Family Turdidae (Thrushes). P. 748 (Indian Blue Robin) in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. (2005). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 10. Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

eBird. 2017. eBird hotspot: Wuyipeng Research Station, Sichuan, CN: http://ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L947367. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [Web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York. http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: July 15, 2017).

Robson, C. (2006). Family Paradoxornithidae (Parrotbills). P. 292 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 12. Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

BIRDS NOTED IN SICHUAN, 18-21 MAY 2017 (110 SPECIES)

Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus
Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa
Verreaux’s Monal-Partridge Tetraophasis obscurus
Temminck’s Tragopan Tragopan temminckii
Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus
Lady Amherst’s Pheasant C. amherstiae
White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon
Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus
Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia
Snow Pigeon C. leuconota
Speckled Wood Pigeon C. hodgsonii
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus
Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides
Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus
Common Cuckoo C. canorus
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii
Great Barbet Psilopogon virens
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug
Long-tailed Minivet Pericrocotus ethologus
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha
Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus
Fire-capped Tit Cephalopyrus flammiceps
Yellow-browed Tit Sylviparus modestus
Coal Tit Periparus ater
Rufous-vented Tit P. rubidiventris
Yellow-bellied Tit P. venustulus
Pere David’s Tit Poecile davidi
Sichuan Tit P. weigoldicus
Green-backed Tit Parus monticolus
Black-browed Bushtit Aegithalos iouschistos
Chestnut-vented Nuthatch Sitta nagaensis
Hodgson’s Treecreeper Certhia hodgsoni
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Chinese Wren-babbler Pnoepyga mutica
Pygmy Wren-babbler P. pusilla
Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes
Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler H. acanthizoides
Aberrant Bush Warbler H. flavolivaceus
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis
Buff-barred Warbler P. pulcher
Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti
Chinese Leaf Warbler P. yunnanensis
Hume’s Leaf Warbler P. humei
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides
Large-billed Leaf Warbler P. magnirostris
Claudia’s Leaf Warbler P. claudiae
Emei Leaf Warbler P. emeiensis
Martens’s Warbler Seicercus omeiensis
Bianchi’s Warbler S. valentini
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps
Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus gravivox
Chinese Babax Babax lanceolatus
Spotted Laughingthrush Garrulax ocellatus
Giant Laughingthrush G. maximus
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii
Golden-breasted Fulvetta Lioparus chrysotis
White-browed Fulvetta Fulvetta vinipectus
Chinese Fulvetta F. striaticollis
Grey-hooded Fulvetta F. cinereiceps
White-collared Yuhina Yuhina diademata
Chestnut-flanked White-eye Zosterops erythropleurus
Sichuan Thrush Zoothera griseiceps
Chestnut Thrush Turdus rubrocanus
Fujian Niltava Niltava davidi
Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassinus
Indian Blue Robin Larvivora brunnea
Chinese Rubythroat Calliope tschebaiewi
Firethroat C. pectardens
Grandala Grandala coelicolor
Himalayan Bluetail Tarsiger rufilatus
Slaty-blue Flycatcher Ficedula tricolor
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher F. strophiata
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis
Plumbeous Water Redstart P. fuliginosus
White-capped Redstart P. leucocephalus
Daurian Redstart P. auroreus
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird Aethopyga gouldiae
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris
Rufous-breasted Accentor P. strophiata
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail M. alba
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola
Dark-breasted Rosefinch Carpodacus nipalensis
Common Rosefinch C. erythrinus
Pink-rumped Rosefinch C. waltoni
Vinaceous Rosefinch C. vinaceus
Sharpe’s Rosefinch C. verreauxii
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius
Twite Carduelis flavirostris
Tibetan Serin Spinus thibetanus
Collared Grosbeak Mycerobas affinis
Slaty Bunting Emberiza siemsseni

Featured image: Themes from Wuyipeng, 20 May 2017. Clockwise from top L: Craig Brelsford in sea of bamboo; male Firethroat Calliope pectardens (photo from Old Erlang Road, Sichuan, 5 June 2014); sign at Wuyipeng Field Monitoring Station; rich forest near station. All by Craig Brelsford.

GUEST POST: Tianmushan in July

Editor’s note: Hangzhou Botanical Gardens and the Tianmu Mountains are must-see destinations for Shanghai birders, especially those of us new to birding in southeast China. Hangzhou Botanical combines ease of access (it can be visited in a day on the bullet train) with the chance to see southeast China birds whose ranges do not reach Shanghai. Visiting the Tianmu Mountains or Tianmushan is more of a project than visiting Hangzhou Botanical, but the rewards are greater. No place so close to Shanghai offers as much high-quality mountain forest as Tianmu.

In this guest post, Shanghai birder Larry Chen tells us about his recent trip to Hangzhou Botanical and Tianmu. As Larry makes clear, a trip to those locations, even at the height of summer, is worth the Shanghai birder’s time.

If Larry’s report whets your appetite and you want to know more, then take a look at these resources:

The shanghaibirding.com site page for the Tianmu Mountains
My trip to Tianmu in November 2015
My trip to Tianmu in May 2015 (scroll down to entries for 7-10 May)

— Craig Brelsford

Tianmushan in July
© 2017 by Larry Chen
for shanghaibirding.com

Komatsu Yasuhiko, Zeng Qiongyu, and I covered Tianmushan 6-8 July 2017. We hiked up to around 1500 meters above sea level and explored some beautiful top-quality mixed forest, including stands of the magnificent Japanese Cedar Cryptomeria japonica and Huangshan Pine Pinus hwangshanensis, as well as roadside mixed deciduous, conifer, and bamboo forest.

Some of the avian highlights from our three-day trip were the diminutive and bamboo-loving Short-tailed Parrotbill Neosuthora davidiana, Moustached Laughingthrush Garrulax cineraceus, and the regal Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis.

The weather at Tianmu, unlike hot and humid Shanghai, was humid but relatively cool, and plenty of shade was provided by the extensive foliage.

Tianmu highlights: Short-tailed Parrotbill (top) and Black Eagle, (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Tianmu highlights: Short-tailed Parrotbill (top) and Black Eagle. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Hiko and I visited Hangzhou Botanical on 5 July, managing to find, despite the heat, several species whose ranges do not quite reach Shanghai, among them Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides, Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae, and Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha.

I recommend Tianmu and Hangzhou Botanical to anyone seeking a few days’ trip out of Shanghai. Tianmushan has some beautiful habitat, comfortable but cheap accommodations, and a truly under-watched avian diversity.

We had 65 species at Hangzhou Botanical and Tianmu. Highlights:

Botanical

Asian Barred Owlet, Hangzhou Botanitcal Gardens, July 2017. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Asian Barred Owlet, Hangzhou Botanical Gardens, 5 July 2017. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Striated Heron Butorides striata
Swinhoe’s Minivet Pericrocotus cantonensis
Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides
Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus
Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae

West Tianmu Mountain

Rufous-capped Babbler, one of several species common at Tianmu and absent in Shanghai. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Rufous-capped Babbler, one of several species common at Tianmu and absent in Shanghai. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Short-tailed Parrotbill Neosuthora davidiana
Moustached Laughingthrush Garrulax cineraceus
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus goodsoni
Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis
Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps

You can view our complete lists on eBird:

West Tianmushan Nature Reserve, Zhejiang, CN (20170708)
West Tianmushan Nature Reserve, Zhejiang, CN (20170707)
West Tianmushan Nature Reserve, Zhejiang, CN (20170706)
Hangzhou Botanical Gardens, Zhejiang, CN (20170705)

Featured image: Habitats of Tianmushan. Clockwise from L: roaring stream, mixed deciduous-conifer forest, roadside bamboo, and vast tracts of mountain forest. (Larry Chen)

GUEST POST: Let the Birding Gen Flow, by Michael Grunwell

Editor’s note: Michael Grunwell (above) is a British birder who last month moved from Shanghai to Penang, Malaysia. Michael spent four years in China, two in Nanchang and two in Shanghai. During that time, amid a full-time career and while providing for his wife and three children, Michael noted more than 700 species of bird in the Middle Kingdom. As if his personal commitments were not challenging enough, Michael faced another obstacle: a lack of “gen,” or basic birding information. In this essay, Michael contends that in China, getting gen is too difficult. Among “people in the know,” writes Michael, a “cheery, clubbable atmosphere” stifles the free flow of information. “China needs a great deal more published articles on sites and species,” he maintains, and he looks forward to a day when birding info in China will be “logged by and accessible to all.” — Craig Brelsford

Let the Birding Gen Flow
© 2017 by Michael Grunwell
for shanghaibirding.com

Exactly 33 years ago, I went on an independent birding trip to Peru. We faced Maoist insurrection and genuine danger–and we had better gen on where to find birds than China has in 2017.

China needs a great deal more published articles on sites and species. It is not right that most of the birding days in various bird-rich parts of China are unpublished and unavailable.

There seems to be a cheery, clubbable atmosphere which stifles real gen.

Take Sichuan, for example. Most Western birders on a trip to that province are taken to major sites such as Labahe and Balangshan. Very little precise gen is ever published about where species are seen.

Glowing accounts of yet another glorious China trip are written up by the tour companies and uploaded to Cloudbirders. These so-called “reports” are devoid of precise gen and should be seen for what they really are, which is infomercials.

With the growing popularity of bird-observation sites such as eBird, it has never been easier to make records that are timely, accurate, and most important, public. I note that the vast majority of the eBird hotspots in Sichuan have lists posted by independent birders–and almost no tour companies.

I do not agree that freedom of information damages commercial guiding. Take Turkey, for example. Although the main birding sites in that country are well-known, birders still pay big money for tours, because most people who go on tours are not list-obsessed but just normal people who want a hassle-free trip. I published a report on sites around Istanbul 13 years ago; a few years ago, I saw an advert for a bird tour going to the same places for a handsome price.

Another example is Sri Lanka. All the sites for the endemics are well-known. I recorded all the endemics in only five and a half days in 2011, and I wrote a full report that did wonders for my guide’s business.

Other examples are Florida, Arizona, The GambiaMajorca, and even my home country, the United Kingdom. In all these cases, there is more than enough accurate, precise gen amid a thriving bird-tour industry.

In stark contrast to the foregoing stands China. It still astonishes me that, time and time again during my four years in China, I had to rely on a handful of trip reports for basic gen. China has a population of 1.4 billion, and there is no simple, clear Web site giving basic information on the Top 10 birding sites in western China!

I want every day’s birding in China to be logged by and accessible to all. Am I idealistic? Indeed I am. Knowledge about Chinese birds needs to grow, and fast. We must escape the current sclerotic situation, in which keen birders are waiting for crumbs to be thrown from the table of those in the know.

If you want an example of what the future could be like, then look no further than this Web site, shanghaibirding.com. Craig Brelsford is committed to cooperative birding, providing complete and precise details of bird sightings and birding locations. On Shanghai Birding, the companion WeChat group, Craig and other users regularly post news of and directions to sightings within minutes of discovery.

That’s the way it should be–a birding culture dedicated not to the profits of the commercial birder but to the enjoyment of the common birder. A healthy birding community is run by common birders and for common birders.

Featured image: Clockwise from top L, Michael Grunwell (L) with fellow shanghaibirding.com contributor John MacKinnon at Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, 8 April 2017 (Craig Brelsford); Michael using the spotting scope at Ga’er Monastery, Qinghai, 8 July 2016 (Craig Brelsford); Michael with Craig Brelsford (R) at Cape Nanhui, 4 April 2016 (Elaine Du); Michael with old friend Mark Waters (R) in Huzhu County, Qinghai, 27 June 2016 (Craig Brelsford).

GUEST POST: Notes on Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, by Philip D. Round

Notes on Kamchatka Leaf Warbler
© 2017 by Philip D. Round
for shanghaibirding.com

Regarding the comment by Dr. Nial Moores in the shanghaibirding.com post Kamchatka Leaf Warbler in Shanghai (6 June 2017): I would agree that both Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis and Kamchatka Leaf Warbler P. examinandus may come through late, alongside each other, even in mid- to late May.

Here in Thailand, I think our earliest Kamchatka (diagnosed on wing length, greater than 70 mm) was 14 April, caught on Man Nai Island (12.015924, 102.283475) at the same time (so far) as our only undoubted Japanese Leaf Warbler P. xanthodryas.

While on average Kamchatka may be slightly larger-billed, and the respective sexes larger and longer-winged than Arctics, there is not much in it. Anybody who expects to be able to call birds one or the other in the field on anything other than voice is stretching credibility, I feel. Plumage overlap seems total. And of course on body size and wing length there is overlap between male Arctic and female Kamchatka.

The featured image above shows two individuals, with two photos each. Both were freshly moulted birds caught on northwards spring passage at Laem Phak Bia (13.050000, 100.083333), Phetchaburi, Thailand. Both were picked out as being slightly more brightly yellowish on underparts and on supercilium than typical spring borealis (caught on the same day), and brighter green above.

The bird in panels 1 and 2 was caught 14 May 2011. Measurements were wing 66 mm, bill 14.5 mm. On mt DNA (COI) we determined that it was examinandus. The identically bright-coloured individual in panels 3 and 4 was caught on the same day. Measurements were wing 62 mm, bill 14.5 mm. It was borealis on DNA.

The paper of which this comparison was a part is titled “Addition of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides to Thailand’s Avifauna.” It was published by the Japan Bird Banding Journal and is downloadable (708 KB) through shanghaibirding.com.

We record Kamchatka annually in Thailand, with most records in May. On average it is a later migrant than Arctic with (old specimen) records from Thailand and Malaysia even into the last days of May. Based on birds handled (and DNA assayed), I would re-emphasise that there is total overlap on the range of plumage characters with borealis.

Though we selected our first, unusually bright-plumaged “Arctic Warblers” in mid-May for assay specifically because they were a bit more yellow-green than usual, note that, just as in the panels above, some turned out to be examinandus and some seemingly identically bright birds were borealis.

Takema Saitoh at the Yamashina Institute has a little module that uses a canonical discriminant function that will separate most birds on biometrics. But of course, this is only good for birds that are handled. The key parameters are wing length, total head length (head plus bill), length of outermost primary, and length of tarsus.

As Craig Brelsford notes in his 6 June post, Kamchatka on average are a bit longer-billed. But even this did not reliably separate all birds unless one knew the sex (problems of overlap between female Kamchatka and male Arctic).

Call and song–so important!

Editor’s note: shanghaibirding.com has a growing library of resources on leaf warblers. In addition to the paper Phil Round directs us to above, we have the excellent presentation by Per Alström, “Identification of Phylloscopus & Seicercus warblers in China,” downloadable here (13 MB).

Craig Brelsford has written the following posts about leaf warblers:

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler & the Shanghai Big 5 (26 Sept. 2016)
Sakhalin & Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Singing Together (5 May 2016)

For even more of our posts in which Phylloscopus is mentioned, type “leaf warbler” in the search box nearby.