Rainy but Good Day on Chongming

On Sun. 1 Nov. 2015, despite a late start and amid a constant drizzle, Elaine and I noted 60 species at Chongming Dongtan. Hooded Crane have arrived, Chinese Grey Shrike was seen, and we noted Black-winged Kite in precisely the same location as last year.

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KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE … & YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER. What Don Corleone taught Michael, these Crested Myna seem to know by instinct. Here they are massing close to Black-winged Kite.

Other highlights were Common Crane associating with Hooded, female Siberian Rubythroat, and impressive flocks of Brambling, 400 in all.

The female Pied Harrier was splotchy on top and the leading edge of the wings was so pale that they looked like headlights. We noted 6 species of bunting, with Yellow-throated Bunting the most conspicuous.

Agricultural activity inside the sea wall seems to be less this year than in previous years. Many fields lie fallow and have become overgrown, providing good habitat for buntings.

With rain falling all morning long and with more in the forecast, we decided not to push ourselves. Arriving at 11:30, we soon saw that the rain wasn’t hard enough to depress bird numbers, but it was enough to depress tourist numbers. The area around Chongming Dongtan is large and conducive to car-birding. We never left the car, we grinned and bore the rain, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet.

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]), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). 11:30-16:30.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 20
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 500
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 1
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 70
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 8
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 50
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 6
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 3
Little Egret E. garzetta 30
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis 1
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1 female
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Common Crane Grus grus 4
Hooded Crane G. monacha 13
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 3
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 2
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 18
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 3
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 30
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 12
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 7
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 11
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 11
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana ca. 60
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 25
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 4
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 13
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 40
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 400
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 4 (1 taivana, 3 tschutschensis)
White Wagtail M. alba 3 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 3
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 6
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla ca. 400
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 42
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 5
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 33
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 15
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2

36 Species at Century Park

Elaine and I noted 36 species, an all-time high for us at Century Park. The list is a delightful, passerine-heavy, and thus very typical Century Park mix, livened up by Eurasian Woodcock. We found Great Spotted Woodpecker, uncommon in the park, and Tristram’s Bunting showed well. Thrush species are arriving, but their numbers are still small. We had 5 White’s Thrush, 6 Grey-backed Thrush, 2 Eyebrowed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, and Pale Thrush as well as the ever-present Chinese Blackbird.

The woodcock was in the very productive forest to the right of Gate 7 from the perspective of one entering the park. The sparrowhawks were seen high above Gate 7; distinguishing between Japanese and Eurasian Sparrowhawk, the two likely species, would have been guesswork for me with birds that high.

Black-browed Reed Warbler were seen once again in the reeds edging the lake near Gate 7. Along the reed bed near the soccer field we found an adult-male Bull-headed Shrike.

Weather: Mostly cloudy. High 19°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). 08:10-12:15.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 8
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 4
Accipter sp. 2
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis ca. 75
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 4
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus ca. 50
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 15
Japanese Tit Parus minor 11
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 15
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 45
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 5
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 6
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 40
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 5
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 3
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 11
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 4
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 5
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 2

Featured image: Japanese Thrush Turdus cardis passes through the Shanghai region each spring and autumn. This monotypic species breeds on all the main islands of Japan as well as in a disjunct range from Henan to Guizhou. I took this photo of a male last year on Lesser Yangshan Island.

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.