Loons Near Pudong Airport

Black-throated Loon and Red-throated Loon have been found at a little-birded recreational area in Pudong, and Slaty-backed Gull has appeared on the Huangpu River across from the Bund. All three species are rare in Earth’s Greatest City, with Black-throated Loon the scarcest. All three were brought to light by Shanghai birders using social media.

Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata, Sanjiagang Water Park, March 2017. Photo by Kai Pflug.
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata, Sanjiagang Seaside Park (31.217928, 121.768172). Photo by Kai Pflug. On Sun. 19 March 2017, a day after Michael Grunwell and I viewed it, this loon was discovered dead at the water park. It may have been a victim of poisoning through the ingestion of oil that had collected on its feathers.

The loons had been sighted numerous times before my partner Michael Grunwell and I arrived on Sat. 18 March 2017 at Sanjiagang Seaside Park (31.217928, 121.768172). The dilapidated recreation area is on the coast of the East China Sea, near the mouth of the Yangtze River, 9 km north of Pudong Airport. Chinese birders discovered the loons, and birder Larry Chen, his partners Komatsu Yasuhiko and Archie Jiang, and bird photographer Kai Pflug followed up, reporting back to our chat group, Shanghai Birding.

On Sun. 19 March, the Red-throated Loon was discovered dead at the park by local birder Suōyǔ Hè (蓑羽鹤). It is not clear what killed the bird, but it may have slowly poisoned itself by ingesting oil that had collected on its feathers. Larry said that during his encounters with the individual “The loon was constantly attempting to preen itself” and that he clearly saw oil on one of its flanks. Can you detect anything amiss in the video below?

Red-throated Loon breeds at latitudes above 50 degrees in Eurasia and North America. Wintering Gavia stellata is more common in Shanghai than Black-throated Loon, being recorded annually here. Michael, my wife Elaine Du, and I found Red-throated Loon at Cape Nanhui in January 2016.

The feet of loons are placed far back on their body. Their resulting ungainliness on land is obvious even on a resting loon, as here. Laotieshan, Liaoning, 18 Sept. 2013. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
The feet of loons are placed far back on the bulky body, making loons powerful divers and clumsy walkers. Note the dagger-like bill, elongated head, and thick neck, characteristic of all five species in the loon family Gaviidae. I found this Black-throated Loon on 18 Sept. 2013 at Laotieshan, Liaoning (38.730483, 121.134018).

Black-throated Loon is also known as Black-throated Diver and Arctic Loon. Gavia arctica breeds across northern Eurasia and into Alaska. It is an uncommon winter visitor all along the coast of China and is very rarely noted in Shanghai, with the last previous record in 2012. Before the encounter Saturday, I had seen Black-throated Loon only once, on 18 Sept. 2013 at Laotieshan (38.730483, 121.134018) in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Here is video of Black-throated Loon at Sanjiagang Seaside Park.

GULLING WITH BIRDERS IN MY POCKET

Michael Grunwell viewing gulls on Huangpu River, 18 March 2017. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Michael Grunwell views gulls Saturday at Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863). Craig Brelsford.

On Sat. 18 March at Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863), with the Pudong skyline looming behind, Michael Grunwell and I scanned the gulls on the Huangpu River.

“I think we’ve found Slaty-backed!” Michael cried.

With my iPhone I took photos of the gull through my scope and uploaded the photos to Shanghai Birding, the chat group I manage on the instant-messaging application WeChat. Within minutes the experts in my pocket started weighing in. Shenzhen birder Jonathan Martinez and Larry Chen, both strong gullers, confirmed Michael’s ID. Michael and I had a life bird!

By its second winter, Slaty-backed Gull (C) shows a mantle darker than that of all other gulls in our region. Note the contrast in mantle color between Larus schistisagus and the adult Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus surrounding it. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6 and PhoneSkope adapter attached to my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope.
By its second winter, Slaty-backed Gull (C) shows a saddle a darker shade of grey than that of all other gulls in East Asia. Note here the contrast between the slate-grey of Larus schistisagus (top inset) and the lighter grey of the other gulls, all adult Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus (bottom inset). UPDATE, 18 APR 2017: In a guest post for shanghaibirding.com about the Widespread Herring-type Gulls of East Asia, Nial Moores says the gull far L is Taimyr Gull L. (heuglini) taimyrensis. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6 and PhoneSkope adapter attached to Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope.

Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus breeds on islands and cliffs on the coast of the Russian Far East (particularly the Kamchatka Peninsula) as well as Hokkaido. Wintering Slaty-backed are common in Japan, less common in northern coastal China, and rare in Shanghai.

Slaty-backed Gull, 2nd winter, Huangpu River, Shanghai 18 March 2017.
Slaty-backed Gull, Shanghai. Note the angular head, stout bill, and short, thick, bubblegum-pink legs. Craig Brelsford.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.

JOIN US ON SHANGHAI BIRDING

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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. 18 March 2017 (7 species)

Vega/Mongolian Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus, Binjiang Park (31.240195, 121.490717), Shanghai, China, 18 March 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com)
Mongolian Gull Larus vegae mongolicus, Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863), 18 March. Tag says ‘AL 62.’ I am looking into the origin of the tag and will update this post when I get more information. This is yet another photo taken with my iPhone 6 + PhoneSkope + Swarovski ATX-95. UPDATE, 22 MAR 2017: Thank you to Nial Moores from Birds Korea for showing me this page about a wing-tagging program for gulls from 2004 in northeastern Mongolia. It is highly possible that the gull above is part of that program. UPDATE, 24 MAR 2017: Gull researcher Andreas Buchheim has written me saying that he himself ringed gull AL 62 on 27 May 2013 at Telmen Lake (48.8, 97.25) in NW Mongolia. Telmen Lake is 2,820 km (1,752 miles) from Shanghai’s Binjiang Park. Buchheim said that when he ringed AL 62, it was already an adult. This means that AL 62 hatched no later than spring 2010 and that the youngest it could be is nearly 7 years old. All large, white-headed gulls breeding in Mongolia, Buchheim said, are mongolicus. Regarding our mongolicus, Nial Moores from Birds Korea said, ‘This individual shows more obvious yellowish tones to the legs than most/any we see here in Korea (where they are invariably pinkish-legged). It is known that some Mongolians on the breeding grounds have yellowish tones to the legs–so perhaps this difference between birds in Shanghai and Korea is to do with hormonal condition pre-migration. It tends to be several degrees colder in Korea than in Shanghai on the same dates, of course.’

Birds noted at Binjiang Park (Bīnjiāng Gōngyuán [滨江公园], (31.2356935, 121.4973863), small urban park on Huangpu River in Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Overcast; low 10° C, high 13° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 91 (moderate). Sunrise 06:00, sunset 18:04. SAT 18 MAR 2017 11:00-12:45. Craig Brelsford & Michael Grunwell.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 50
Mongolian Gull Larus vegae mongolicus 1 w. tags & band
Vega/Mongolian Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus 149
Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus heuglini 3
Slaty-backed Gull L. schistisagus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 15

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 18 March 2017 (22 species)

Shanghai Birder KaneXu (L), and Michael Grunwell share a laugh after discovering that they both own the same model of camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900S.
Shanghai birders KaneXu (L) and Michael Grunwell share a laugh after discovering that they own the same camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900S. The two were at Sanjiagang Seaside Park on 18 March. When it comes to compact cameras, Nikon and other manufacturers are feeling the heat from smartphones. They know that consumers are turning away from compact cameras because the cameras in smartphones are now so good. They are therefore loading up compact cameras such as the P900S with plenty of power and pricing them competitively. KaneXu and Michael are getting great stills as well as video with their new cameras. Photo by Craig Brelsford.

Birds noted at Sanjiagang Seaside Park (Sānjiǎgǎng Hǎibīn Lèyuán [三甲港海滨乐园]; 31.217928, 121.768172), Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Overcast; low 10° C, high 13° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 91 (moderate). Sunrise 06:00, sunset 18:04. SAT 18 MAR 2017 14:15-16:45. Craig Brelsford & Michael Grunwell.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 40
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata 1
Black-throated Loon G. arctica 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 50
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 5
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 75
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 60
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 7
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 25
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 15
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2 (1 singing)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 40
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 20
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 5
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 7
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 7

Featured image: Black-throated Loon Gavia arctica, Laotieshan, Liaoning, China, 18 Sept. 2013. Photo by Craig Brelsford using Nikon D3S and Nikkor 600mm F/4 lens. 1/800, F/14, ISO 1600. I was just 7.1 m from the loon, lying on my belly on the rocky shore.

Yo’, Marty! Barbets Don’t Live in Japan

Editor’s note: The hollow, repetitive calls of barbets in the genus Psilopogon (above) are a familiar background sound in tropical and subtropical Asia. In Japan, however, the sounds of barbets are never heard, a point that may have eluded famed director Martin Scorsese.

I recently saw Scorsese’s Silence. At various points in the film, Taiwan Barbet Psilopogon nuchalis is audible in the background, even though the story takes place around Nagasaki.

Here is a snippet from Silence in which the barbets are particularly loud.

Silence was filmed in Taiwan. Scorsese probably was aware of the barbet sounds and left them in for a wild, woodsy feel. Too bad barbets don’t occur on Kyushu or anywhere else in Japan.

Can someone let Marty know?

(FICTIONAL) UPDATE: I got in touch with Marty! Here’s how the conversation went:

BRELSFORD: Yo’, Marty, you got the wrong birds in the wrong place in Silence. You really oughta take us birders into consideration.

SCORSESE: You talkin’ to me?

Featured photo, clockwise from top left: Blue-throated Barbet Psilopogon asiaticus, 26 Jan. 2012, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan; Chinese Barbet P. faber, 16 Jan. 2013, Jianfengling, Hainan; Golden-throated Barbet P. franklinii, 21 Feb. 2010, Tengchong, Yunnan; and Taiwan Barbet P. nuchalis, 21 Feb. 2013, National Pingtung University, Taiwan. All by Craig Brelsford.

Hello from Florida, Part 2

A Black Skimmer demonstrates its unusual feeding technique at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, 3 Feb. 2017. In this second of a two-post series, I describe to you my recent experiences birding in my home state of Florida. (Click here for Part 1.)

On Tues. 28 Feb. 2017, ​Elaine Du and I returned to Shanghai, having spent most of the previous six weeks in the United States. Amid family reunions and other business, my wife and I noted 151 bird species.

We birded mainly in Volusia County in central Florida. We took a five-day trip to southwest Florida and birded a day in Nassau, capital of The Bahamas. We deepened our understanding of Nearctic avifauna and noted its many similarities to and differences from the birds of China.

BIRDING AND FAMILY

The Brelsford family. Left are my parents, and next to me are my little sister and Elaine. Debary, Florida, 12 Feb. 2017. For Elaine and me, a trip to Florida is an opportunity to engage in world-class birding and see the family.
The Brelsfords. At left are my parents Gene and Susan, and next to me are my sister Tracey and wife Elaine. Debary, Florida, USA, 12 Feb. 2017. For Elaine and me, a trip to Florida is an opportunity to engage in world-class birding while reconnecting with family.

We seamlessly mixed in birding with daily life, something easy to do in Florida. The very subdivision in which my parents live holds endemic Florida Scrub Jay as well as Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis. Ponds, even those along busy highways, hold Wood Stork Mycteria americana. A fixture in coastal towns are Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis and Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis.

Adult Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis, Cape Canaveral Lock, Brevard County, Florida, USA, 13 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Adult Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis, Cape Canaveral Lock, Brevard County, Florida (28.408987, -80.611110), 13 Feb. 2017.
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis, Cape Canaveral Lock, Brevard County, Florida, USA, 13 February 2017.
Immature Brown Pelican, Cape Canaveral Lock, 13 Feb.
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis, Cape Canaveral Lock, Brevard County, Florida, 14 Feb. 2017.
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis, Cape Canaveral Lock, 14 Feb.

BIRDING BOTH COASTS

We enjoyed great coastal birding at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Atlantic coast and J. N. “Ding” Darling NWR on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Among the most beautiful birds was Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja, cousin of Shanghai’s Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor. We also found American White Pelican and Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Brevard County, Florida, USA, 3 Feb. 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Brevard County, 3 Feb. 2017.
Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Brevard County, Florida, USA, 3 Feb. 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Roseate Spoonbill, Merritt Island.
"Council of Pelicans." American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Lee County, Florida, USA, 9 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford • www.craigbrelsford.com • www.shanghaibirding.com.
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Lee County, 9 Feb.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron Nyctanassa violacea, J. N. Ding Darling NWR--Wildlife Drive, Lee County, Florida, USA, 9 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Yellow-crowned Night Heron Nyctanassa violacea, ‘Ding’ Darling NWR, 9 Feb.

10 LIFE BIRDS IN BAHAMAS

During a cruise to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, Elaine and I had 10 life birds in Nassau. Although close to the North American mainland, The Bahamas holds various taxa rarely noted in Florida, among them Red-legged Thrush Turdus plumbeus and the endemic hummingbird Bahama Woodstar. We had visible migration in the form of a Northern Parula that appeared on our cruise ship while the vessel was far out at sea.

Red-legged Thrush Turdus plumbeus plumbeus, The Retreat, Bahamas National Trust, Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas (25.0638312, -77.3111343). 15 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Red-legged Thrush Turdus plumbeus plumbeus, The Retreat, Nassau, Bahamas (25.0638312, -77.3111343). 15 Feb. 2017.
Bahama Woodstar Calliphlox evelynae, The Retreat, Bahamas National Trust, Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas (25.0638312, -77.3111343). 15 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Bahama Woodstar Calliphlox evelynae, The Retreat, 15 Feb.
Northern Parula <em>Setophaga americana</em>, Deck 11 of cruise ship Majesty of the Seas, anchored off Little Stirrup Cay, Bahamas (25.8165814, -77.9390717), 16 Feb.
Northern Parula Setophaga americana on cruise ship Majesty of the Seas, anchored off Little Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, 16 Feb.

FOCUS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

In the United States poaching is rare, and the unwary as well as the secretive birds survive. Elaine and I were able to get close to various species and with little trouble achieve excellent photos. Because the air in Florida is clean, the light is often exquisite, and the photos, especially those taken early and late in the day, really pop. Here is Eastern Meadowlark from Osceola County and Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii from Sanibel Island. In Nassau I got close to wintering Ovenbird.

Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Osceola County, Florida, 10 February 2017, © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Osceola County, 10 Feb.
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Osceola County, Florida, 10 February 2017, © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Eastern Meadowlark, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, 10 Feb.
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 31 Jan. 2017. Joe Overstreet Road, Osceola County, Florida, USA (27.942510, -81.205295).
Eastern Meadowlark, Joe Overstreet Road, Osceola County (27.942510, -81.205295), 31 Jan.
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii, J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Lee County, Florida, USA, 9 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii, J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling NWR, 9 Feb.
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla, The Retreat, Bahamas National Trust, Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas (25.0638312, -77.3111343). 15 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla, The Retreat, Nassau, 15 Feb.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Red-cockaded Woodpecker is one of the few birds endemic to the United States. Northern Crested Caracara is a New World member of the falcon family. Its diet includes carrion, and here it was feeding on a dead raccoon.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Leuconotopicus borealis, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 31 Jan. 2017. Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Osceola County, Florida, USA (27.949104, -81.143137).
Red-cockaded Woodpecker Leuconotopicus borealis, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Osceola County, 31 Jan.
Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway, by Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). Joe Overstreet Road, Osceola County, Florida, USA (27.944660, -81.203199).
Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway, Joe Overstreet Road, Osceola County, 31 Jan.

Sedge Wren is a winter visitor to Florida; White-eyed Vireo breeds in the Sunshine State. Black-and-white Warbler moves up and down tree trunks like a nuthatch.

Sedge Wren Cistothorus stellaris, Audubon Park, Volusia County, Florida, USA, 24 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Sedge Wren Cistothorus stellaris, Audubon Park, Volusia County, 24 Feb.
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus, Gemini Springs Park, Volusia County, Florida, USA, 21 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus, Gemini Springs Park, Volusia County, 21 Feb.
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida, USA, 7 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford • www.craigbrelsford.com • www.shanghaibirding.com.
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, 7 Feb.

A cosmopolitan species, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus inhabits the coastal eastern United States and has been recorded in southeast China. Neither heron nor rail, Limpkin is most closely related to cranes.

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Merritt Island Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, Brevard County, Florida, USA, 3 Feb. 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Merritt Island NWR, 3 Feb.
Limpkin Aramus guarauna, Joe Overstreet Landing, Osceola County, Florida, USA (27.937265, -81.225983), 31 January 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Limpkin Aramus guarauna, Joe Overstreet Landing, Osceola County, 31 Jan.

American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus and Barred Owl Strix varia represent genera well-known to Shanghai birders.

American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus, Gemini Springs Park, Volusia County, Florida, USA, 21 February 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus, Gemini Springs Park, 21 Feb.
Barred Owl
Barred Owl Strix varia, Gemini Springs Park, 1 Feb.

My Equipment

I use a Nikon D3S and Nikkor 600 mm F/4. I mount my lens and camera atop a ​Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and ​MVH502AH video head. I use my iPhone 6 for landscape shots.

My Day Lists

Visit my eBird profile page for access to my day lists from Florida as well as China.

Hello from Florida!

Editor’s note: In the photo above, Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus pauses while feeding in a “hammock” or stand of trees. American Robin Turdus migratorius is visible in the background. The photo is from Gemini Springs Park in Volusia County, Florida and was taken on 22 Jan. 2017. This post is the first in a two-part series about my recent experiences birding in Florida. For Part 2, click here.

Greetings from the United States! On 19 Jan. Elaine Du and I arrived at my parents’ home in Florida. Birding began immediately, with good records such as Sandhill Crane coming from my parents’ very own front yard. The Sunshine State may be the best state in the USA for birding, and it is particularly good in winter. In this post, I will give you an introduction to birding in central Florida.

Where Are We?

In Debary, as in many other places in the United States, wild birds can be quite tame. Here at Gemini Springs Park, an American White Ibis (L) and a pair of Boat-tailed Grackle are attracted by the activities of fishermen and birdwatchers.
In Debary, as in many other places in the United States, wild birds can be quite tame. Here at Gemini Springs Park, an American White Ibis (L) and a pair of Boat-tailed Grackle are attracted by the activities of human visitors on the pier.

Elaine and I are in Debary, a town in Volusia County, near Orlando, 50 km (30 miles) inland from the Atlantic Ocean. We are at about 29 degrees north latitude at a point 262 km (163 miles) south of the parallel that runs through People’s Square in Shanghai.

Because Elaine and I have not seen my parents in two years, much of my time has been spent with family. We have visited only two nature reserves, but they are good ones: Gemini Springs Park and Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. The former is 7 km from my parents’ home; the latter, 31 km.

What Can a non-American Birder Learn in Florida?

Forest habitat, Gemini Springs Park, Volusia County, Florida, 28 Jan. 2017.
The edge of dense forest in Gemini Springs Park. Spanish Moss Tillandsia usneoides hangs from live oaks. Ovenbird forages on the forest floor, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher and White-eyed Vireo browse in the mid-canopy, and Common Grackle perch atop the high branches.

Birders who do most of their birding in China will find many differences in the avifauna of Florida. Entire families, such as the wood warblers (Parulidae), would be new to the first-time birder in the New World. Other families such as Troglodytidae (wrens) and Vireonidae (vireos) would be vaguely familiar. Still other families such as Accipitridae (hawks) and Strigidae (owls) are well-represented in both the Old World and New.

Here are some of the families I have noted recently in Volusia County:

Ciconiidae (Storks)

Wood Stork is the only stork that breeds in the United States. I note it regularly around Debary.

Wood Stork Mycteria americana at a pond at the entrance to my parents' subdivision in Debary, Florida, 24 Jan. 2017.
Wood Stork Mycteria americana at pond at entrance to my parents’ subdivision in Debary, Florida, 24 Jan. 2017.
Wood Stork sparring at Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan. 2017. Next to them is Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias, analogue to the Old World's Grey Heron A. cinerea. In foreground is Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor.
Wood Stork sparring at Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan. 2017. Next to them is Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias, American analogue to Eurasia’s Grey Heron A. cinerea. In foreground is Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

One of the most widespread of New World vultures is Black Vulture Coragyps atratus. Like Old World vultures, Black Vulture finds carrion by sight, and it lacks feathers on its face, crown, and throat. The birds are very tame and approached me when I lay on the ground for these closeups.

Black Vulture (adult), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture (adult), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture (adult), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture, adult. The bare face is unsightly but helps keep the bird clean.
Black Vulture (juv.), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Juvenile Black Vulture.
Black Vultures mill around, Lake Woodruff, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture approached my camera as I lay on the ground.

Pandionidae (Ospreys)

In some cases, China and America share birds not only of the same family or genus, but also of the same species. Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus is common in Shanghai as well as in the wetlands of Volusia County.

Western Osprey carrying half a fish, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Western Osprey carrying half a fish, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.

Accipitridae (Kites, Hawks, and Eagles)

A common forest hawk of the eastern United States, Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus is in the same genus as Shanghai’s Eastern Buzzard B. japonicus. On 27 Jan. at Gemini Springs Park, I photographed a pair mating.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

America’s Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius is immediately familiar to China-based birders. It is similar to, and was once considered conspecific with, Hen Harrier C. cyaneus.

Northern Harrier, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 28 Jan. 2017.
Northern Harrier, Lake Woodruff, 26 Jan.

Rallidae (Rails)

Shanghai has Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus; Florida offers King Rail R. elegans. I found a pair at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. All rails are hard, and a good view such as this one is an experience to be treasured.

King Rail Rallus elegans, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 26 Jan. 2017. Lake Woodruff Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, Volusia County, Florida, USA. 29.106747, -81.372567.
King Rail Rallus elegans, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.

Gruidae (Cranes)

Volusia County is home to Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis. The cranes are a non-migratory population, and as suburbia has grown up around them, the cranes have not only adapted, but flourished. Here is a group outside my parents’ home in Debary, photographed through the window of my car.

Sandhill Crane, Debary, Florida, 27 Jan. 2017.
Sandhill Crane, Debary, 27 Jan. 2017.

Aramidae (Limpkin)

Limpkin Aramus guarauna is the sole member of Aramidae. It looks like a large rail or heron but is most closely related to cranes. The species ranges from Florida to Argentina. At Gemini Springs I found a Limpkin feeding with American White Ibis Eudocimus albus.

Limpkin (R) with American White Ibis, Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan. 2017.
Limpkin (R) with American White Ibis, Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan.

Strigidae (Owls)

Barred Owl Strix varia is an owl of dense forests. It is common, and its hoot is well-known. Strix is a large genus and includes China’s Himalayan Owl S. nivicolum.

Pair at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.
Pair at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.
Sleepy Barred Owl at Gemini Springs, 28 Jan.
Sleepy Barred Owl at Gemini Springs, 28 Jan.
The Barred Owl was perching on a palm tree near a well-traveled bicycle path. No one noticed it.
The sleepy Barred Owl was perching on a palm tree near a well-traveled bicycle path.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus is part of a genus of large, powerful woodpeckers that includes Eurasia’s Black Woodpecker D. martius. Pileated Woodpecker flourishes in dense forests with large trees, of which there are many in central Florida.

Pileated Woodpecker, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 25 Jan.
Pileated Woodpecker, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 25 Jan.

This is Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus. Melanerpes contains 24 species, all in the Americas.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, 27 Jan.
Red-bellied Woodpecker, 27 Jan.

Vireonidae (Vireos)

Vireonidae is a group of small to mid-sized passerines. Most live in the New World. White-bellied Erpornis and the shrike-babblers occur in China. In recent days in Florida I have found White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus and Blue-headed Vireo V. solitarius.

White-eyed Vireo with ladybug, Gemini, 24 Jan.
White-eyed Vireo with ladybug, Gemini, 24 Jan.

Regulidae (Goldcrests, Kinglets)

All six members of Regulidae are in a single genus, Regulus. Goldcrest Regulus regulus can be found in winter and on migration in Shanghai. North America has the very similar Ruby-crowned Kinglet R. calendula.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet searches for tiny arthropods very much in the manner of its Eurasian cousin Goldcrest.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet searches for tiny arthropods very much in the manner of its Eurasian cousin Goldcrest. Females, such as this one photographed 24 Jan. at Gemini, lack the ruby crown.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

The sole Old World representative of Troglodytidae is Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes. In Florida I have had House Wren T. aedon, Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris, and the accomplished songster Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus.

Carolina Wren, Gemini, 24 Jan.
Carolina Wren, Gemini, 24 Jan.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

The New World warblers are an important passerine family confined to the New World. Most species are arboreal and insectivorous and fill niches similar to those filled in the Old World by leaf warblers. Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia is the sole member of its genus. It is the only New World warbler to move up and down tree trunks in the manner of a nuthatch.

Black-and-white Warbler, Gemini, 28 Jan.
Black-and-white Warbler, Gemini, 28 Jan.

Icteridae (Icterids)

Icterids are a strictly New World family. Boat-tailed Grackle Quiscalus major lives along the U.S. coast from New York to Texas. In Florida it also occurs inland.

Boat-tailed Grackle, Gemini, 28 Jan.
Boat-tailed Grackle, Gemini, 28 Jan.

Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)

American “sparrows” are more closely related to Old World buntings. Both groups are in Emberizidae. Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis is a bird of open country. It breeds from Alaska through Canada and the northern Lower 48 states and is a winter visitor to Florida. Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana is most at home in wetland habitats. It too is a winter visitor to Florida. It breeds in the northern U.S. and Canada.

Savannah Sparrow, 26 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
Savannah Sparrow, 26 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
Swamp Sparrow, 25 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
Swamp Sparrow, 25 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals)

Cardinalidae is a family of finch-like seed-eating birds endemic to the New World. Painted Bunting Passerina ciris is often described as the most beautiful bird in North America.

Painted Bunting, Gemini Springs Park, 28 Jan. 2017.
Painted Bunting, Gemini Springs Park, 28 Jan. 2017.

My Equipment

I use a Nikon D3S that I purchased in October 2010. The camera has been a steady performer, and I have seen no need to replace it. My lens is the Nikkor 600 mm F/4. I mount my lens and camera atop a ​Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and ​MVH502AH video head. I use my iPhone 6 for landscape shots.

My Day Lists

Visit my eBird profile page for access to my day lists from Florida as well as China. You will need an eBird account to view the profile.