Western Osprey carries a fish while flying over Dishui Lake in Shanghai, Mon. 4 April 2016. Lingang a satellite city that did not exist 10 years ago, looms in the background.

The Surge

Spring has surged into Shanghai! Elaine Du and I noted 92 species on the Qingming weekend. We found 212 endangered Great Knot at Nanhui and Bluethroat and Brown-headed Thrush on Chongming. Other highlights were 2 Greater Scaup and Black-necked Grebe on Chongming and at Nanhui 2 endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting, “Swintail” Snipe, 10 Saunders’s Gull (rare in Shanghai), 3 endangered Far Eastern Curlew, 2 Eurasian Bittern booming amid the sound of traffic, and 10 Pacific Swift.

'Swintail' Snipe, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Note the bill, shorter than the very long bill of Common Snipe, and the underwing, with 'Swintail' showing a uniformly dark, banded underwing and Common usually showing white underwing coverts. Note the pale, diffuse trailing edge to the wing of 'Swintail,' in contrast to the bright-white trailing edge of Common. 'Swintail' is birder's jargon meaning Swinhoe's Snipe or Pin-tailed Snipe, two species that are nearly impossible to separate in the field. The snipe pictured here could be either.
‘Swintail’ Snipe, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Note the bill, shorter than the very long bill of Common Snipe, and the underwing, with ‘Swintail’ showing a uniformly dark, banded underwing and Common usually showing white underwing coverts. Note the pale, diffuse trailing edge to the wing of ‘Swintail,’ in contrast to the bright-white trailing edge of Common. ‘Swintail’ is birder’s jargon meaning Swinhoe’s Snipe or Pin-tailed Snipe, two species that are nearly impossible to separate in the field. The snipe pictured here could be either.

On Sun. 3 April 2016, fog once again kept Elaine and me off Hengsha Island, our original destination. Driving our rented Skoda Scout, we left the Hengsha ferry terminal on Changxing Island and took the Shanghai Changjiang Bridge across the Yangtze to Chongming Island. Visibility was less than 100 meters when we finally arrived at Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve. Rain, usually a drizzle, sometimes a shower, let up only briefly, around noon.

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: This 'Swintail' was photographed 13 Sept. 2014 in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu. Yes, sigh, it is nearly impossible to distinguish Swinhoe's from Pin-tailed in the field. But it is possible, and much fun, to pick out 'Swintail' from Common! Note here the pale panels on the wings of 'Swintail' (visible in 1a, 2, and 3), note the lighter streaking on the back of this 'Swintail' than would be the case in a typical Common, and observe the lack of white trailing edge to the wings.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: This ‘Swintail’ was photographed 13 Sept. 2014 in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu. Yes, sigh, it is nearly impossible to distinguish Swinhoe’s from Pin-tailed in the field. But it is possible, and much fun, to pick out ‘Swintail’ from Common! Note here the pale panels on the wings of ‘Swintail’ (visible in 1a, 2, and 3), note the lighter streaking on the back of this ‘Swintail’ than would be the case in a typical Common, and observe the lack of white trailing edge to the wings.

We stayed away from fee and permit areas. The northeast sea wall, with its well-protected mudflats beyond, is blocked off by guards wearing camouflage uniforms. A road running inside and parallel to the sea wall is not in a permit area and affords views of the canal-pond at the base of the wall. Reeds running along this inner road are the first tall, thick vegetation a bird flying along the coastline is likely to see and contained several migrants, among them the Brown-headed Thrush and a leaf warbler that may have been Chinese Leaf Warbler. The Phyllosc was soaking wet, and the characteristics I was noting, such as its seeming lack of a strong coronal stripe like Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, may have merely been the effect of the water. We noted the bright yellow rump, were starting to get hopeful–and then the bird disappeared.

On the eastern end of Chongming, we covered the farmland inside the sea wall and did not drive in the permit area atop the wall. We found the Bluethroat at the very good “snipe corner” (31.479537, 121.937001) south of Changjiang Lu. True to form, the skulker quickly hid away, refusing to flush or show. Still, the fleeting glimpse we got was Elaine’s best view ever of Bluethroat.

Common Snipe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 3 April 2016. Can you see the three main differences between this bird and the 'Swintail' above? To wit: longer bill, whiter underwings, and whiter trailing edge to the wings (visible, as here, even from below).
Common Snipe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 3 April 2016. Can you see the three main differences between this bird and the ‘Swintail’ above? To wit: longer bill, whiter underwings, and whiter trailing edge to the wings (visible, as here, even from below).

My walk through the reeds in pursuit of the Bluethroat scared up 2 Japanese Quail. Common Snipe were numerous, a pair of Oriental Skylark were hollowing out a tiny cup in the grass, and Water/Brown-cheeked Rail squealed once and fell silent. I recorded a fifth distinctive vocalization of Reed Parrotbill; I call this one the “siren.” (For the previous four calls, please visit “Amid the Din of the Diggers.”)

Reed Parrotbill, siren call (00:04; 954 KB)

On Mon. 4 April, Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell once again joined Elaine and me at Nanhui. We noted 73 species. Whereas outings in March gave us a “spring emerging from winter” impression, on Monday the transition to springtime felt complete. All that was missing were the flycatchers and the leaves on the trees in the microforests, those migrant traps dotting the sea wall.

Yellow-breasted Bunting, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Changes to wintering sites, loss of reed-bed habitat for roosting sites, and especially trapping for meat in southern China have reduced the population of this once-abundant species to a fraction of its former strength.
Yellow-breasted Bunting, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Changes to wintering sites, loss of reed-bed habitat for roosting sites, and especially trapping for meat in southern China have reduced the population of this once-abundant species to a fraction of its former strength.

We rented no car, instead relying on the Shanghai Metro, taxis, a ride from a pair of friendly tourists, and our legs. With sunny skies and temperatures reaching 18 degrees, the weather was nearly perfect, and the exercise put us in a good mood.

The birding area at Nanhui is steadily going from “half-forgotten, mostly empty, natural” to “popular, busy, recreational.” Cars were packed around Nanhuizui Park and the Holiday Inn, and Qingming tourists were streaming out of the buses. Amid the commotion we found our first-of-season singing Manchurian/Japanese Bush Warbler as well as a single Asian House Martin flying among the swifts, the suddenly numerous Barn Swallow, and a single Red-rumped Swallow. At the Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), we climbed to the deck of the derelict building next to the Holiday Inn. There, we enjoyed the expansive views, noted more Pacific Swift, and wondered how on earth a building as huge as this could be built and then immediately abandoned.

Asian House Martin, 4 April 2016.
Asian House Martin, 4 April 2016.

North of the Nanhuizui area, photographers were working on 12 Black-winged Stilt that were using a pond close to Microforest 2  (30.926039, 121.970725). Around that pond we found Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The quiet, half-fallow fields behind the pond evoked memories of old Nanhui. We found our Yellow-breasted Bunting here as well as Chestnut-eared Bunting and about 60 of our 90 Pallas’s Reed Bunting. We were looking for but failed to find Japanese Reed Bunting. We noted the absence of harriers, which normally would be hovering over the fields and reed beds.

Great Knot were seen in flight and on the mudflats as the tide receded.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 3 April 2016 (57 species)

Oriental Skylark, Chongming, 3 April 2016. This bird, one of the pair whose nest I saw being constructed, shows a pale-buff trailing edge to the wing, not the noticeably brighter white trailing edge characteristic of Eurasian. The tail is shorter than is typically the case in Eurasian.
Oriental Skylark, Chongming, 3 April 2016. This bird, one of the pair whose nest I saw being constructed, shows a pale-buff trailing edge to the wing, not the noticeably brighter white trailing edge characteristic of Eurasian. The tail is shorter than is typically the case in Eurasian.

Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]; 31.510109, 121.961955), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China. Includes birds noted along unnamed road running parallel to canal at base of eastern sea wall, in particular a spot called Snipe Corner (31.479537, 121.937001), as well as the canal-pond at inner base of northeastern sea wall, in particular the site at 31.555579, 121.942261. Light rain & showers; low 11° C, high 15° C. Wind NNW 15 km/h. Visibility 100 m (a.m.), 3 km (p.m.). PM2.5 AQI: 119 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:39, sunset 18:16. SUN 03 APR 2016 06:50-16:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 7
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 14
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 8
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 10
Greater Scaup A. marila 2
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 15
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 6
Great Egret A. alba 8
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 18
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 4
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 400
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 24
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 1
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 4
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 22
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 5
Common Redshank T. totanus 16
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 4
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 9
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Vega Gull Larus vegae 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 30
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 2 (nesting pair)
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark A. arvensis/gulgula 50
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 4
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 54
Phylloscopus sp. 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 6
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 100
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 4
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 11
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 450
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 14
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 1
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 8
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 38
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 3

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 4 April 2016 (73 species)

Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016.
Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016.

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Shanghai, China. List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) and Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489). Sunny; low 9° C, high 17° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind ENE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 91 (moderate). Sunrise 05:38, sunset 18:16. SUN 04 APR 2016 09:00-17:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 26
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 15
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 3
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 10
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 2 booming
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Accipiter sp. 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 10
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 50
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 12
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 8
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 8
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 1
Common Snipe G. gallinago 15
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 2
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 3
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 9
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 8
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 6
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 4
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 212
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 1
Dunlin C. alpina 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Saunders’s Gull C. saundersi 10
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 13
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus 10
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 7
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 1
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 1
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1 singing
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 10
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 80
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 18
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 25
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 26
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 28
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 4
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 8
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 3
White Wagtail M. alba 12 (1 lugens)
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 5
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 11
Little Bunting E. pusilla 20
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 1
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 8
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 90

Mammals

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1

Michael Grunwell (L) checking Mark Brazil's Birds of East Asia, Craig Brelsford checking Collins Bird Guide, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael Grunwell (L) checking Mark Brazil’s Birds of East Asia, Craig Brelsford checking Collins Bird Guide, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.

Featured image: Western Osprey carries a fish while flying over Dishui Lake in Shanghai, Mon. 4 April 2016. Lingang, a satellite city that did not exist 10 years ago, looms in the background.

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lives in Shanghai, where he runs shanghaibirding.com and studies Chinese at the Shanghai University of Engineering Sciences.

2 thoughts on “The Surge”

  1. Loving your posts. As a new resident of Shanghai I am also discovering many of the places you write about albeit with a little less personal expertise, transport and time.
    I’m picking up 1 or 2 new birds each trip (world list 3677) still. I had 2 Marshall Grasbbirds inside Chongming Dongtan on the 2nd.
    Love to meet up this Spring for a jaunt perhaps.

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