Amazing Grey Nightjar!

This year I have been focusing less on photographing birds and more on classic birdwatching. I have learned birds more quickly but sometimes miss the creativity that comes with photography. On Sat. 17 Oct., I returned to photography with a Grey Nightjar. I was on Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, China.

Photographing a roosting Grey Nightjar is like photographing a rock. The bird doesn't move. It's therefore possible to get incredible close-ups. In this image, I aimed for as much detail as possible on the head. I wanted to illustrate the way in which the nightjar's head is exquisitely designed for camouflage and insect-catching. Look at the bristles around the bill!
Photographing a roosting Grey Nightjar is like photographing a rock. The bird doesn’t move. It’s therefore possible to get incredible close-ups. In this image, I aimed for as much detail as possible on the head. I wanted to illustrate the way in which the nightjar’s head is exquisitely designed for camouflage and insect-catching. Look at the bristles around the bill!

I was walking alone and noticed the nightjar resting on a bamboo pole. It was hiding in plain sight; a few minutes before, I’d passed that site and failed to see the nightjar. I crawled through brush to within 6.5 m of the bird. The goatsucker took little notice of me, never moving except to open its eye a little.

The moments with the nightjar filled me with pleasure. For those 20 minutes while I took the shots, there was nothing else in the world except this usually mysterious and elusive, now completely accessible and photographable, nightjar. I admired the beauty of the nightjar and the efficiency of its design. This Caprimulgid is a flying piece of bark and leaf litter, a creature designed to hide by day, relying on its near-perfect camouflage, and at dusk devour flying insects. The long bristles around its tiny bill are the tools it uses to feed.

Featured image: Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus jotaka. Nikon D3S, VR 600mm F/4G, F/14, 1/20, ISO 640, using mirror-up + cable and with camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod.

72 Species on Hengsha

Highlights from our 72-species day at Hengsha, Sun. 25 Oct. 2015: a lone Black-faced Spoonbill associating with 2 Eurasian Spoonbill, Chinese Grey Shrike, Red-throated Thrush, 2 Common Starling among White-cheeked Starling, and Bull-headed Shrike dining on grasshopper. Ducks: Eastern Spot-billed Duck 270, Eurasian Teal 55, Northern Shoveler 3. Also Eurasian Coot 280, Common Snipe 28, Ruddy Turnstone 1, Chinese Penduline Tit 75, Richard’s Pipit 25.

Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together I: Black-faced Spoonbill with Eurasian Spoonbill.
Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together I: Black-faced Spoonbill with Eurasian Spoonbill.

Elaine and I recorded only 1 bunting all day: a single Chestnut-eared Bunting. Hengsha was bunting central last autumn, and almost exactly a year ago Elaine and I had seven Emberiza species in a single morning on Temple Mount on Lesser Yangshan.

Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together II: Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling.
Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together II: Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling.

In the past year, Elaine and I have seen Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling on three occasions in three widely separated locations. On 8 Nov. 2014 at Sì Hé Cūn (四合村) near Lake Poyang in Jiangxi, we found 80 Common Starling among 160 White-cheeked Starling; on 23 July 2015 at Wūlánnuò’ěr (乌兰诺尔) near Hulun Lake in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, we found 1 Common Starling among 15 White-cheeked Starling; and now this latest sighting. Common Starling is well-known to birders in Europe and North America (where it is an introduced species), and it is common in parts of western China, but in eastern China it is supposedly only a vagrant.

Beautiful 'Red-bellied Rock Thrush' Monticola solitarius philippensis, ssp. of Blue Rock Thrush. The species is locally common at coastal sites around Shanghai. It prefers rocky areas but can make do with concrete breakers set up along the shore. Here a female is perching atop an outhouse.
Beautiful ‘Red-bellied Rock Thrush’ Monticola solitarius philippensis, ssp. of Blue Rock Thrush. The species is locally common at coastal sites around Shanghai. It prefers rocky areas but can make do with concrete breakers set up along the shore. Here a female is perching atop an outhouse.
Elaine and I spent our final hour on Hengsha snipe watching. High-speed photography of flying snipe not only is pleasurable but also can be an aid to identification, as the camera captures details that the eye can miss. This is Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Nikon D3S, 600 mm + 1.4x TC, F8, 1/5000, ISO 12800 (that is correct: twelve thousand eight hundred!). Camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod.
Elaine and I spent our final hour on Hengsha snipe watching. High-speed photography of flying snipe not only is pleasurable but also can be an aid to identification, as the camera captures details that the eye can miss. This is Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Nikon D3S, 600 mm + 1.4x TC, F8, 1/5000, ISO 12800 (that is correct: twelve thousand eight hundred!). Camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod.

Hengsha is complicated to get to, and the reclaimed land where birders go lacks trees and thus forest birds. If it had even the microforests of Nanhui, then our total of 72 species might have been 80 to 90, and if in addition even a small part of the giant project were run as a nature reserve, then the list might have topped 100! Still, a day at Hengsha may be the single most interesting birding day available in Shanghai. The place has a remote, even wild feel, and the air is fresh.

Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), a small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to birding area at 31.297333, 121.859434. 07:10-17:10.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 3
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 40
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 270
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 3
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 55
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 30
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 7
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 2
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 1
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 2
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 11
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Great Egret A. alba 13
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 8
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 14
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 2
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 280
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 9
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 2
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 20
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 3
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 2
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 7
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 2
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Sanderling Calidris alba 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 1
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 2
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 4
Dunlin C. alpina 2
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 25
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 5
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 4
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 15
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 75
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis ca. 50
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 15
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 20
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 15
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 6
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 5
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 3
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 6
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris 2
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 12
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 8 (4 taivana, 4 tschutschensis)
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 10 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 25
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 12
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 1
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 1

Featured image: Elaine Du viewing birds on Hengsha Island. In the top-left corner of the image, the three white dots are 1 Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor associating with 2 Eurasian Spoonbill P. leucorodia.

53 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

On Saturday 24 Oct. Elaine and I noted 53 species on Lesser Yangshan and at Nanhui. The most notable birds on Lesser Yangshan were Eurasian Wryneck, Hair-crested Drongo, and Hawfinch. We saw a “flock” of 3 Northern Boobook. At Nanhui, Eurasian Woodcock was found in the microforests along the sea wall. Brown-headed Thrush and Red-throated Thrush are uncommon passage migrants in the Shanghai region.

Once again, our team consisted of Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp and wife Xueping, and Elaine and me. The moment with the woodcock was team birding at its best. Walking along the road atop the sea wall, I stumbled upon the woodcock. It exploded from cover and left the forest. I immediately knew I had scared a brown non-thrush, but I hadn’t seen the long bill. “Brown bird!” I cried out. The woodcock appeared from behind a line of trees just long enough for Michael to see it. “Woodcock!” he cried out.

This migrating Eurasian Sparrowhawk appeared briefly over Lesser Yangshan. A China tick for Michael!
This migrating Eurasian Sparrowhawk appeared briefly over Lesser Yangshan. A China tick for Michael!

Weather: Hazy and warm, with a steady northeasterly wind. High 25°C.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 24 Oct. 2015 (35 species)

Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Garbage Dump Coastal Plain (30.638860, 122.060089), Xiǎoyánglíng Cove (30.642243, 122.066940), & Temple Mount (30.639945, 122.048277). 07:00-11:50.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Northern Boobok Ninox japonica 3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 4
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 5
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 4
Japanese Tit Parus minor 3
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 3
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 8
Arctic-type leaf warbler P. borealis/P. examinandus/P. xanthodryas 3
Zosterops sp. 8
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 1
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 15
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 3
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 5
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 15
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 2
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 1
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 3
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2

Reptiles

snake sp. 1 black, fuzzily defined postocular eyestripe, long body, long head

Northern Boobook on Temple Mount, Lesser Yangshan. Ninox japonica is a regularly noted passage migrant in Shanghai.
Northern Boobook on Temple Mount, Lesser Yangshan. Ninox japonica is a regularly noted passage migrant in Shanghai.

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 24 Oct. 2015 (31 species)

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159); list includes birds found at Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782). 12:30-15:45.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 7
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 10
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 20
Little Egret Egretta garzetta ca. 100
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 30
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 5
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 8
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 4
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 1
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 1
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 6
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 20
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 2
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 3
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 2

Featured image: Xueping Popp (L) and Michael Grunwell (R) in one of the microforests on landward side of the levee at Nanhui. During migration season, these plantations of locust trees contain an astonishing number of woodland birds.

24 Species at Century Park

A 7 km stroll at Century Park this morning netted 24 species, with 3 Japanese Grosbeak leading the list. 2 Black-browed Reed Warbler were in the reedy fringe of the pond near Gate 7. Winter visitors Dusky Thrush and Yellow-bellied Tit were present. Black-faced Bunting was the sole representative of Emberiza.

The Japanese Grosbeak that we saw most clearly was an adult. It was readily separable from Chinese Grosbeak by its larger size, simpler wing coloration (black primaries with large white patch in middle), and less-extensive black cap.

Elaine and I closely watched Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps. Both birds were making their characteristic harsh churr; one was warbling softly. Watching the reed warblers was not only enjoyable, but also necessary to eliminate the similar Speckled Reed Warbler A. sorghophilus, a bird I have yet to tick. Birders will do well to scrutinize A. bistrigiceps, a common species usually found in the same reedy habitats as A. sorghophilus, an endangered and poorly known species that with luck just might be discoverable in the Shanghai area.

I’m thinking buntings are a bit late this year; could warmer weather be causing them to move more leisurely southward?

Weather: The unseasonably warm weather continues. High 26°C.

Century Park (Shìjì Gōngyuán [世纪公园]), Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China (31.219361, 121.551900). 07:40-10:45.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 6
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 5
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus ca. 50
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 8
Japanese Tit Parus minor 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 35
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 6
Black Browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps 2
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 4
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 25
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 5
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 4
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis
Japanese Grosbeak Eophona personata 2
Chinese Grosbeak E. migratoria 4
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 1

Featured image: Japanese Grosbeak, Lesser Yangshan Island, 17 Oct. 2015. In Shanghai, Eophona personata, a passage migrant, is much less commonly seen than Chinese Grosbeak E. migratoria, which breeds in parks in the city. The two species are readily separable by the larger size of E. personata as well as its simpler wing coloration (all-black primaries with large white patch in middle), less extensive black cap, and lack of black tip to bill.