Shot of high-quality remnant reed bed at a site called Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883). Iron Track is a site within the reed beds lining the Dazhi River near Binhai. The reed beds are in good condition and support a wide variety of species, among them Reed Parrotbill. As Nanhui falls to the backhoe, and with prospects of a revival of the defunct wetland reserve looking dim, future birders will turn to hidden corners such as Iron Track to find species.

Remnants

Editor’s note: The photo above shows a remnant of the reed beds that used to cover Nanhui and much of the Shanghai Peninsula. The photo is from Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), part of a reed bed 450,000 square meters in size lining the Dazhi River near Binhai. As the birding areas at Nanhui fall to the backhoe, future birders searching for species will turn to hidden corners such as this one.

This post is part of a series on the riches of the environment in Nanhui and the threats to those riches. Other posts in the series:

Reed Parrotbill, Symbol of Shanghai
Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Nanhui
Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve!

Though its position between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay makes it among the richest birding areas on the coast of China, the southeastern tip of Pudong enjoys virtually no protection. The continued transformation of Cape Nanhui is likely, with the reed beds at particular risk. As the backhoes advance, birders ask: Where will we go to find our birds?

Answer: to the remnants.

Craig Brelsford searches for Brown-cheeked Rail in one of the extensive reed beds east of Dishui Lake. Photo taken 16 Jan. 2016 by Elaine Du.
Craig Brelsford searches for Brown-cheeked Rail in one of the extensive reed beds east of Dishui Lake. All may seem well here, but the reeds to the south of the photo have been destroyed, and to the north is the defunct nature reserve. It is highly possible that here too the reed bed will be dredged and plowed under and that in the end only fragments of the original habitat will remain. That would be a pity, because the reed beds at Cape Nanhui are some of the largest and best-preserved on the central Chinese coast. Photo taken 16 Jan. 2016 by Elaine Du.

Like archeologists examining a ruin, future birders at Cape Nanhui will scour the fragments of a once-great coastal wetland and try to imagine how the place once looked. Most of the land will have been transformed. Even now, in some of the agricultural areas around Binhai (31.007757, 121.885624) and Luchao (30.857299, 121.850590), nearly all of the original reed-bed habitat has disappeared.

If those future birders look hard, though, they will find intact pieces, islands of untouched habitat. Even around Binhai and Luchao, there are such places. Reed beds line man-made canals and larger waterways such as the Dazhi River, the mouth of which holds about 450,000 square meters of good reed-bed habitat. In these fragments, wild birds flourish, much as they always have done, though on a smaller scale.

Binhai lies to the north of the main birding areas east of Dishui Lake. Luchao is to the south. These towns border the 30-km stretch of coastline at Cape Nanhui. These built-up places point to the likely future of the areas just east of Dishui Lake, which have developed more slowly and to this day still hold pristine reed beds. (One of the largest covers 1.4 sq. km and has its center point at 30.876060, 121.945305.)

Craig Brelsford leaves walks up the inner base of the sea wall near Luchao, 10 Nov. 2016.
Craig Brelsford walks up the inner base of the sea wall near Luchao, 19 Nov. 2016. In the midground is a narrow line of reeds in which a Lesser Coucal was foraging. The coordinates of this point are 30.849433, 121.881834. Half a kilometer south, a more extensive reed bed measures 75 m by 2500 m. Photo by Elaine Du.

The reed beds east of Dishui are impenetrable–a wilderness within the city. We know that they are rich in birds, and we know that they hold species at risk, among them breeding Marsh Grassbird Locustella pryeri, listed as Near Threatened by IUCN. Judging by their frequency of occurrence at the edges of the reed beds, where they are regularly seen and heard, Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill must number in the high hundreds at Nanhui. Just this past Saturday, our team found Near Threatened Japanese Reed Bunting.

Lesser Coucal in remnant reed bed near Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047). The coucal was very much at home and gave us the impression that it had been born there. The reed beds in the Luchao area have been reduced to about 1% of their historic extension, but even that 1% is enough to support a small community of birds, among them Yellow-breasted Bunting at a nearby site (30.850707, 121.863662).
Lesser Coucal in remnant reed bed near Eiffel Tower (30.849433, 121.881834). The coucal was very much at home and may have been born there. The reed beds in the Luchao area have been reduced to less than 1 percent of their historical extension. Those specks of habitat support a scaled-down community of the birds once common in Shanghai.

Even the tiny fragments near the towns hold a surprisingly high number of species. At a site (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, in reeds lining a canal at the base of the sea wall, Yellow-breasted Bunting have been present throughout November. On Saturday we found this Endangered species for the sixth time in six tries since our first sighting there on 5 Nov.

Chestnut-eared Bunting amid a world of reeds at the site north of Luchao, 19 Nov. 2016.
Chestnut-eared Bunting in a world of reeds at the site (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao currently reliable for Yellow-breasted Bunting. The site is part of a reed bed measuring 75 m by 2500 m–188,000 square meters of precious reed-bed habitat. Decades ago, such a modest parcel of land would have seemed a drop in the bucket. Today, remnants such as this provide habitat critically important to dozens of species once common in the area, among them the two aforementioned species of bunting as well as Brown Crake, Lesser Coucal, and Reed Parrotbill.

The site, part of a reedy area 75 m wide and 2500 m long, also yielded a small flock of Reed Parrotbill as well as wintering Chestnut-eared Bunting and Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Just north of the site, near Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047), there is an even smaller fragment of reed bed. There, we had juvenile Lesser Coucal.

Reed beds are an extremely rich habitat, and even a tiny area can hold many birds. Even if disaster continues to befall the large reed beds that still exist near Dishui Lake, not quite everything will have been lost. Birding will go on–in the remnants.

78 SPECIES AT CAPE NANHUI

The Hooded Crane was feeding, a sign that it was relaxing despite being 60 km away from the regular wintering site of Hooded Crane at eastern Chongming Island. On Sat. 12 Nov. Elaine, Michael, and I had the first record of Hooded Crane in the history of the Shanghai Peninsula (see latest post on shanghaibirding.com). This almost certainly is the same bird. Hooded Crane is listed as Vulnerable. About 11,500 individuals remain. The key threats to its existence are, in the words of IUCN, "wetland loss and degradation in its wintering grounds in China and South Korea."
The Hooded Crane was feeding, a sign that it was functioning normally despite being at Nanhui, a location not really suitable to cranes and 60 km south of the regular Hooded Crane wintering site on eastern Chongming Island. On Sat. 12 Nov. 2016, Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I had the first record of Hooded Crane in the history of the Shanghai Peninsula. The crane shown here, found at a point (30.940284, 121.958120) just a few hundred meters from the site of that first encounter, is almost certainly the same bird. Grus monacha is listed as Vulnerable. About 11,500 remain. The main threats to its existence are, in the words of IUCN, “wetland loss and degradation in its wintering grounds in China and South Korea.”

On Sat. 19 Nov. 2016, Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I birded Cape Nanhui. We found 78 species. We had Japanese Reed Bunting on the north side of the defunct wetland reserve (30.926452, 121.958517), the Hooded Crane that apparently spent a week in Nanhui, a single Baikal Teal (and presumably others shrouded in haze), a juvenile Lesser Coucal very much at home in remnant reed bed near Luchao, and Yellow-breasted Bunting at its reliable spot (30.850707, 121.863662).

Non-passerines: Tundra Swan (bewickii) 6 on the mudflats, Black-faced Spoonbill 6 in the defunct wetland reserve, Eurasian Spoonbill 45, Black-faced/Eurasian Spoonbill 30 in haze with bills tucked in, Black-tailed Godwit 1, Red Knot 2, Temminck’s Stint 1, Red-necked Stint 7, Dunlin 850.

Passerines: Brown-flanked Bush Warbler 1, Naumann’s Thrush 1, Chestnut-eared Bunting 15, Taiga/Red-breasted Flycatcher 1 (seen in poor light by Elaine; presumably the same confirmed Red-breasted Flycatcher found by Kai Pflug).

SIDE TRIP TO BINHAI FOREST PARK

'Cape Nanhui' is the southeastern-most point of Pudong (red) and the city-province of Shanghai. Map courtesy Wikipedia.
I published this map last week, but I think it is worth examining it again. ‘Cape Nanhui’ is an important birding area not just because it is coastal but also because it is a headland–the southeastern-most point of Pudong (red) and the entire city-province of Shanghai (yellow areas plus Pudong). Migrating birds hugging the coastline are drawn to areas that jut out. Just a few hundred meters inland, however, the intensity fades. The bird mix at places such as Binhai Forest Park (30.966324, 121.910289), just 4.5 km inland, closely resembles that of the urban parks farther inland. Map courtesy Wikipedia.

On Saturday our team made its first trip since 31 Oct. 2015 to Binhai Forest Park (30.966324, 121.910289). The site yielded a late Mugimaki Flycatcher. More importantly, the brief visit gave us insights into the nature of migratory birds.

Though just 4.5 km inland, Binhai offers a mix of birds more akin to that of Century Park (22 km inland) than the coastal areas much nearer-by. Passerines moving through our region clearly hug the shoreline, especially around headlands such as Cape Nanhui.

Some of the smaller Nanhui microforests, such as Microforest 2 (30.926013, 121.970705), are about the size of a tennis court. But as they are a stone’s throw from the sea, they hold a much greater density of passage migrants than Binhai, which is 1600 times larger (1.5 sq. km) than Microforest 2.

HOW WE FOUND JAPANESE REED BUNTING

Japanese Reed Bunting Emberiza yessoensis. The IUCN lists it as Near Threatened because of the loss of wetland habitat in its breeding range (which includes Heilongjiang) as well as in its wintering grounds. The continued degradation of the Nanhui coastal marshes is a prime example of the general problems this species faces.
Japanese Reed Bunting Emberiza yessoensis, defunct nature reserve (30.926452, 121.958517), Nanhui, 19 Nov. 2016. Owing to the loss of wetland habitat in its breeding range (which in China includes Heilongjiang) as well as in its wintering grounds, IUCN lists the species as Near Threatened.

Michael, Elaine, and I were on the unpaved track on the north side of the defunct Nanhui reserve (30.926452, 121.958517). We were studying the roosting shorebirds and spoonbills. I got a call from Wāng Yàjīng (汪亚菁), who along with her husband Chén Qí (陈骐) found Swinhoe’s Rail at Nanhui last month. She told me a Hooded Crane was in the rice paddies 1.5 km north of us.

As we were rushing back to the car, I noted a lone reed bunting in the thick vegetation lining the dirt track. A lone reed bunting struck me as odd; Pallas’s Reed Bunting are common in the area and usually in flocks. I pulled out my camera and got a few images, which I did not have time to check. We got in the car and drove to see the crane.

Only the next day, when I sat down to look at Saturday’s photographic results, did I realize that I had photographed Japanese Reed Bunting Emberiza yessoensis.

Day Lists
Lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 19 Nov. 2016 (69 species)

Blue Rock Thrush is a gem of a bird. Usually I would hesitate to process a photo of a bird on the braces at the base of the Nanhui sea wall, as it is an unnatural environment. But for Blue Rock Thrush, the concrete IS a natural environment, or a close enough replica of the rocky habitats that it favors. Blue Rock Thrush would likely shy away from a completely natural muddy Nanhui coastline.
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis, Nanhui, 19 Nov. 2016. Usually I would hesitate to process a photo of a bird on the concrete base of the Nanhui sea wall, as it is an unnatural environment. But for Blue Rock Thrush, this is a natural environment, or a close enough replica of the rocky habitats that it favors. Note the red string attached to the bird’s right tarsus.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. We covered the coastal road from Binhai (Bīnhǎi Zhèn [滨海镇]; 31.006250, 121.885558) to Luchao (Lúcháo Gǎng [芦潮港]; 30.851109, 121.848455). Among the points along this 30 km stretch are Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), a site providing access to the reed beds at the mouth of the Dazhi River (Dàzhì Hé [大治河]); Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074); Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083); Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635); Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229); Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551); South Lock (30.860073, 121.909997); Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047); & the Marshy Agricultural Land (30.850707, 121.863662). List does not include Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Cloudy, hazy/smoggy. Low 16° C, high 22° C. Humidity 72%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind N 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 200 (very unhealthful). Sunrise 06:26, sunset 16:53. SUN 19 NOV 2016 07:10-09:40, 10:40-17:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris 21
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii 6
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 10
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 45
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 20
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 50
Northern Pintail A. acuta 2
Baikal Teal A. formosa 1
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 200
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 130
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 120
Great Egret A. alba 15
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 160
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 45
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 6
Eurasian/Black-faced Spoonbill P. leucorodia/minor 30
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 1
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
rail sp. 1 completely dark
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 8
Hooded Crane Grus monacha 1
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 15
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 30
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 45
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Red Knot Calidris canutus 2
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 7
Dunlin C. alpina 850
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 19
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 1
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus 12
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 6
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 3
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 8
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis 1 juv.
Long-eared/Short-eared Owl Asio otus/flammeus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 15
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 45
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 8
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 8
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 12
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 70
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 40
Japanese Thrush Turdus cardis 1
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 9
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 18
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 6
Taiga/Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla/parva 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 20
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 180
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3
White Wagtail M. alba 17
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens 12
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 15
Little Bunting E. pusilla 2
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 7
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 20
Japanese Reed Bunting E. yessoensis 1

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 19 Nov. 2016 (20 species). Shanghai Binhai Forest Park (Shànghǎi Bīnhǎi Sēnlín Gōngyuán [上海滨海森林公园]; 30.966324, 121.910289), a green space in Pudong, Shanghai, China. Cloudy, hazy/smoggy. Low 16° C, high 22° C. Humidity 72%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind N 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 200 (very unhealthful). Sunrise 06:26, sunset 16:53. SUN 19 NOV 2016 09:40-10:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 10
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 50
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 10
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 100
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 2
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 25
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 20
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 15
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 2
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens 15
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 1

Published by

Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lives in Shanghai, where he runs shanghaibirding.com and studies Chinese at the Shanghai University of Engineering Sciences. Craig is currently the top-ranked (by species noted) eBirder in China, having birded in 30 of the country's 33 provinces and noted more than 900 species. A 1993 graduate of the University of Florida, Craig was an award-winning newspaper editor in the United States for 10 years. A fluent speaker of Dutch, Spanish, and French as well as Mandarin, Craig in 2002 earned the diplôme d'études spécialisées en sciences de gestion from the University of Liege in Belgium. Craig has lived in Shanghai since 2007.

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