Editor’s note: The photo leading off this post shows an abandoned sign introducing Ruddy Turnstone that has been turned into a wall of a shack in the abandoned nature reserve at Nanhui. On 29 Oct. 2016 in the marshy land just behind the sign were 54 Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, an Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, a Near Threatened Red Knot, 2 Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull, and a score of other species. In the essay below, I argue that the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui should be brought back to life and converted into a world-class wetland, like Sungei Buloh in Singapore. — Craig Brelsford
I like to extol the city in which I have spent the past nine years. I like to tell people about the green side of Shanghai, the city at the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway. How exciting it is to bird in Earth’s largest city.
I see in Shanghai an opportunity to show the rest of China how to cherish its natural heritage. The people of Shanghai can teach China and the world to view nature as an asset. They can do this by creating an easily accessible wetland reserve at Nanhui.
Shanghai already is an environmental leader, in a way. My wife Elaine Du and I have toured the 330 km (205 mi.) stretch of coast from Nanhui to Yancheng in Jiangsu. Remaining mudflats and wetlands are very few–and some of the best are not those found in the less-populated areas but those found in the megalopolis of Shanghai. Eastern Chongming Island enjoys considerable protection, and there is Jiuduansha (31.166667, 121.925000), intertidal wetland shoals in the sea near Pudong Airport.
The problem with Jiuduansha especially and to a lesser extent Chongming Dongtan is that they are not easily accessible. The next step for Shanghai is a nature reserve easily accessed by the people, along the lines of the Mai Po Marshes in Hong Kong and Sungei Buloh in Singapore.
It is amazing to me that such a reserve was not in the master plans for Pudong when the New Area was conceived. Pudong is big–it covers 1210 sq. km (467 sq. mi.), nearly twice the size of Singapore. Within this New Area you have the world-class urban architecture and business districts around Lujiazui, you now have world-class family entertainment at the Shanghai Disney Resort–and you have world-class wildlife, the natural inheritance of the city, waiting on the coast, ready to be preserved, experienced, and loved. There is moreover the example of other Asian megacities such as the aforementioned two that found room for wildlife–and that wear their urban reserves as a badge of civic pride.
Mai Po and Sungei Buloh are easily reachable by bus. In Shanghai, the Metro already reaches Lingang New City, and a cheap, fast taxi ride gets you from Dishui Lake Station to Nanhui’s abandoned wetland reserve 8 km away (at 30.920507, 121.973159). The infrastructure for an accessible “people’s nature reserve” is in place, and the birds are there at Nanhui, crying out for real, lasting protection.
Sungei Buloh is a particularly good example for Pudong, as Sungei Buloh is about the same size (1.3 sq. km) as the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui (1.2 sq. km). Like Nanhui’s defunct reserve, Sungei Buloh was not originally considered a likely place for a nature reserve. Sungei Buloh was willed into being by the actions of local nature lovers who understood the value of the site. Likewise, a change of heart and an act of will can bring the abandoned reserve at Nanhui back from the brink.
The sight of Nanhui’s defunct reserve, which apparently just missed being dredged and drained this year, and which could well be torn up next year, saddens me–not just because of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill that so obviously rely on the place, and not only for the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank that has been living there–but also for the grandchildren of the people currently making the decisions, who may have these treasures denied them, and who may fail to appreciate the natural heritage of this great city.
The development plans for Pudong in general and Nanhui and Lingang New City in particular need to have a major component dedicated to conservation. Jiuduansha is simply not enough for Pudong. Those mud banks, barely above sea level, are a place for researchers, not the public. To meet the standard set by other coastal megacities, Pudong needs an easily accessible nature reserve on its mainland. That defunct nature reserve is just the place.
I think some local people realize the dire situation at Nanhui, and I understand that local birders had much to do with the one-year stay of execution granted the abandoned nature reserve. Those birders deserve everyone’s thanks.
I think I speak for many foreigners when I say to my Shanghai conservationist friends: If you need our support, then we will give it to you. Ideas, a pat on the back, anything–we’re here. 加油!
The rarities just keep on coming here in Shanghai. The latest is Swinhoe’s Rail, seen at the Magic Parking Lot in Nanhui on Sat. 29 Oct. 2016 by a trio of Shanghai bird photographers. The photo above was taken by one of the three, Chén Qí (陈骐).
This amazing find comes on the heels of Shanghai’s first record of Crow-billed Drongo on 11 Oct. and Pomarine Skua on 19 Oct. What a birding month October 2016 was in Earth’s largest city!
I got the news about the rail from Chén Qí’s wife, Wāng Yàjīng (汪亚菁). Near dark, as I was returning home after my own eventful day at Nanhui, Wāng Yàjīng called me to report that she had just seen a strange bird. The bird, Yàjīng said, popped its head out of the bushes at the well-known photographers’ setup at the edge of the lot. It showed half its body and disappeared. The episode lasted a few seconds, Yàjīng said.
One look at the photo Yàjīng sent me, and there was no doubt: Swinhoe’s Rail.
The smallest rail in the world, Swinhoe’s Rail is also one of the least-known. The IUCN lists it as Vulnerable.
On Sun. 30 Oct. 2016, photographers maintaining a long vigil saw the rail again.
ANOTHER UNUSUAL SIGHTING: BLACK-NAPED MONARCH
The next day, Sun. 30 Oct. 2016, Kai Pflug found Black-naped Monarch at Wusong-Paotaiwan Wetland Park in Shanghai. Kai was acting on information from Chinese bird photographers who had discovered the bird earlier. The monarch is almost certainly wild. It is a first-winter bird, not the more beautiful adult male that presumably would be of greater interest to collectors, and in Kai’s photos one sees none of the damage common to birds kept in a cage.
Black-naped Monarch has been noted in Shanghai before, most recently on 2 Nov. 2014 by Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp. In China, H. a. styani usually ventures no further north than Guangdong. H. a. oberholseri is resident in Taiwan.
For more records of unusual birds in the Shanghai area, see our Sightings page.
Other highlights Saturday were 54 EndangeredBlack-faced Spoonbill found exclusively in the defunct nature reserve, further underscoring the critical importance of that highly threatened parcel of land. Joining Nordmann’s in the high-tide roost were 2 Ruff, a Near ThreatenedRed Knot, and 2 of our day’s 4 Saunders’s Gull, a Vulnerable species uncommon in Shanghai.
We had Japanese Grosbeak in Microforest 8 and Long-eared Owl at the Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551). Among our season’s firsts were 2 Tundra Bean Goose, Black-necked Grebe, 5 Goldcrest, Manchurian/Japanese Bush Warbler, 3 Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, and 2 Dusky Thrush. Buntings finally are arriving in numbers, with Yellow-throated Bunting (16) and Chestnut Bunting (3) debuting on our Autumn 2016 list. We had a lucky 88 species in all.
Throughout the day, the effectiveness of the Nanhui microforests was on display at Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). The tiny wood, which we visited off and on, was hopping with hungry migrants, grounded on a breezy day. Brambling, Daurian Redstart, and Yellow-bellied Tit were the tamest, but as the day wore on even shy species such as Japanese Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, and Black-winged Cuckooshrike were coming out into the open. Photographers were present, but no one was using mealworms; the forest birds were attracted solely to the habitat offered by a stand of trees no bigger than a tennis court.
Other microforests held Eurasian Woodcock, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Robin, Taiga Flycatcher, and White’s Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Pale Thrush. Dark-sided Flycatcher and Siberian Rubythroat were at the Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229), Asian Stubtail at the Magic GPS Point.
We netted season’s first Buff-bellied Pipit during a 35-minute stop at the sod farm near Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). Red-throated Pipit were present in smaller numbers (3) than six days earlier.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 15
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 12
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 3
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 20
List 2 of 2 for Sat. 29 Oct. 2016 (83 species)
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. List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Mostly cloudy, breezy. Low 13° C, high 18° C. Humidity 75%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind N 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 85 (moderate). Sunrise 06:08, sunset 17:06. SAT 29 OCT 2016 07:55-17:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.
Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris 2
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 32
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 6
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 300
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 31
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 200
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 15
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 40
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 20
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 20
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 1
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 20
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 60
Great Egret A. alba 3
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 150
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 8
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 54
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 30
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1
Pacific Golden Plover P. fulva 1
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 50
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 700
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 3
Red Knot Calidris canutus 1
Ruff C. pugnax 2
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 1
Dunlin C. alpina 200
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 70
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 30
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer 1
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 10
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 4
Vega Gull Vega Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus heuglini 1
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 1
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 3
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 10
Long-eared Owl Asio otus 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 2
Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 10
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 20
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus 6
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 5
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler H. fortipes 3
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 3
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 6
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 5
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 8
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 5
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 2
Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica 1
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 6
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 12
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 18
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 18
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 100
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 6
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 1
Japanese Grosbeak Eophona personata 1
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 5
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 16
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila 3
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3
Alström, Per, Krister Mild & Bill Zetterström. Pipits and Wagtails. Princeton University Press, 2003. This landmark book, co-authored by Shanghai Birding member Per Alström, is my first reference on all things Motacillidae. Of particular use was p. 56, “Water Pipit and Allies (in fresh winter plumage).”
Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. Rough drafts for parts of this post were written by Craig on Shanghai Birding. News about the rail was first circulated on Shanghai Birding. To join Shanghai Birding, fill out the form on our Sightings page.
Starting today, I present to you the highlights of the second month of my Qinghai 2016 birding trip. I have broken up the material into three posts. This post, about Weeks 5-6, appears today; a post covering Week 7 will be published on Thurs. 10 Nov.; and a post on Week 8 on Thurs. 24 Nov.
Weeks 5-6 were spent mainly in Qilian County, in the far north of Qinghai. The featured image above shows some of the highlights. Clockwise from top left: poplar forest in Qilian County, Mountain Weasel, neon lights of Xining, and Eurasian Eagle-Owl.
For more on the first month of the trip, please see these posts:
The Qinghai 2016 birding trip began on 26 June 2016 and was originally scheduled to last a month. My wife Elaine Du and I extended the trip another month, from 24 July to 21 Aug. 2016. In Month 2 we drove 2260 km (1,400 miles) in Xining, Haibei, Haixi, and Hainan prefectures and noted 136 bird species. We discovered at previously unknown locations Tibetan Snowcock, Przevalski’s Partridge, Tibetan Sandgrouse, and Gansu Leaf Warbler. I became one of the few foreign birders to visit Hala Lake, where we found Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, and Lake Xiligou, where we found Mongolian Goitered Gazelle. At the Przevalski’s Site in the Dulan Mountains, we spied a trio of Tibetan Wolf.
A BREAK IN XINING
The activities of weeks 5 and 6 consisted of a five-day break in Xining followed by explorations in Haibei Prefecture. We went to Haibei to scout new birding areas in the Qilian Mountains, a place little-birded by foreigners. Our most important discovery was the poplar forests along the Heihe and Babao rivers, where we encountered woodland species such as Gansu Leaf Warbler and Chinese Thrush. Conifer forests near Qilian Xiancheng yielded Black Woodpecker, and the scrub and pastureland south of Qilian Xiancheng gave us Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Siberian Roe Deer, and Mountain Weasel. We found Güldenstädt’s Redstart at a handful of locations. We failed to find Przevalski’s Redstart.
After a first month with Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén that saw us drive 5800 km (3,600 miles), Elaine and I were ready for a rest. We spent the nights of 24-29 July 2016 in Chengxi (downtown Xining) at Jingjiang Hotel (Jǐngjiāng Jiǔdiàn [景江酒店], +86 (0) 971-4323333, 800 yuan, 36.632578, 101.780914). We birded little in Xining but found impressive numbers of Common Swift at Dongguan Mosque (36.615301, 101.797987). Air pollution was negligible, belying Xining’s reputation as one of the cities with the dirtiest air in China. The five-day break at “low-altitude” Xining, elev. 2280 m, came at the perfect time and completely reinvigorated us.
ENTERING THE QILIAN MOUNTAINS
Our first three days back out, 30 July-1 Aug. 2016, saw us cover the area between the capital of Qinghai and Qilian Xiancheng, 300 km to the north. The G227, the main Xining-Qilian highway, offers much good high-altitude scenery and good scrub but in tourist season is packed with cars. The S302 and S204 are less busy.
This leg brought us the family of Eurasian Eagle-Owl, found in pitch darkness on a dirt road along the Yong’an River, followed the next day (31 July) by views of Siberian Roe Deer and near-threatened Mountain Weasel. We found the eagle-owls, two adults and a juvenile, on a cliff at 3220 m (37.676941, 101.270580). They were calling to each other, a hoarse “yipe”:
Eurasian Eagle-Owl, cliff near Yong’an River, 30 July 2016 (00:57; 3.1 MB)
The Mountain Weasel was found in pasture off the S302 at 37.906618, 100.381936. We noticed a raucous group of White-rumped Snowfinch, Rufous-necked Snowfinch, Ground Tit, and Horned Lark. The cause of their excitement was the weasel, which was raiding the pika burrows. For an hour we watched the weasel pop into and out of the holes, searching for prey.
We were joined by Majiu (马九), a 16-year-old Tibetan high schooler, and his uncle, a herdsman. Majiu, who is 1.8 m tall, was wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey and said to me in English, “Basketball is my life.” He is the star of his team at Qilian Ethnic High School in Qilian Xiancheng.
After dark, in Majiu’s uncle’s tent, Majiu’s uncle’s wife served us Tibetan milk tea and bread. We showed them Saturn through our scope.
— The Siberian Roe Deer was seen in broad daylight in scrub along the S302 at 37.682194, 101.061444. This was my best look ever at Siberian Roe Deer and first in summer pelage. We noted its yellow-brown coat and stocky build.
— Qilian Xiancheng, a tourist center occupying a stunning location on the Qinghai-Gansu border, teems with tourists and has many restaurants and stores. There we recorded Spotted Dove, a species that in Haibei Prefecture is near the western edge of its range. An interesting spot is 38.117957, 100.190286, a conifer forest 12 km south of Qilian Xiancheng on the S204. There we noted Black Woodpecker, Rufous-vented Tit, and Willow Tit (ssp. affinis). Many other conifer forests cling to the slopes around Qilian Xiancheng. This one was the easiest to access.
POPLAR FOREST ON THE HEIHE RIVER
The highlight of our time in Haibei was finding forests of Small-leaf Poplar Populus simonii along the Heihe River and Babao River near Qilian Xiancheng. The best forest is across the Heihe River from Dipanzi Village at 38.212130, 100.160214. Among the trees, some of which are 300 years old, we found singing Gansu Leaf Warbler. This is probably a previously unknown breeding site of this little-known species.
The Gansu Leaf Warbler at the Dipanzi forest were singing in the same fashion as on 27 June, when Elaine, Michael Grunwell, and I found the species in coniferous habitat in Huzhu County (36.973133, 102.441300). The song consists of quickly delivered opening “tzit” fragments, usually followed by a sharp trill:
Gansu Leaf Warbler, poplar forest on Heihe River, 3 Aug. 2016 (01:35; 4.6 MB)
Gansu Leaf Warbler was the most numerous but not the only leaf warbler in the poplar forest. We had in addition Buff-barred Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, and a single Alpine Leaf Warbler sneaking in from the adjacent semi-desert to forage around the spring.
The forest also gave us five trip firsts: Northern Goshawk, Eurasian Wryneck, Eurasian Treecreeper, Chinese Thrush, and, flying high above and caught by the sharp eye of Elaine, Black Stork.
We arrived at the poplar forest on the afternoon of 2 Aug. We had to wait until the morning of 3 Aug. to catch the dawn chorus. Gansu Leaf Warbler led the way. Common Cuckoo called at dawn and into the morning, and Chinese Nuthatch returned to our trip list. Hodgson’s Redstart and White-throated Redstart were feeding juveniles.
We estimate a total of 3 Northern Goshawk in that forest, one of them a juvenile and probably the offspring of the other two. Being woodland birds, the goshawks were a constant presence in the small forest, and their regular flybys startled the other birds. In the recording below, the resident Azure-winged Magpie scream as the goshawk approaches.
Northern Goshawk with Azure-winged Magpie, poplar forest, 2 Aug. 2016 (00:23; 1.7 MB)
Another similar poplar forest is along the Babao River 7 km from Qilian Xiancheng at 38.211356, 100.190371. Here too were Gansu Leaf Warbler. Unlike the quiet Dipanzi forest, accessible only by unpaved roads, the busy S204 runs through the Babao River forest.
EXPLORING THE HEIHE RIVER VALLEY
The next 48 hours, from the afternoon of 4 Aug. to the afternoon of 6 Aug., Elaine and I spent exploring the Heihe River Valley along the 200-km stretch of the S204 from Qilian Xiancheng (38.176712, 100.247371) to Yanglong Xiang (38.816483, 98.415873). Our goal here once again was to discover little-birded areas. We indeed found such areas, places few foreigners ever see, but in them were few birds of great importance. To our trip list we added Water Pipit nesting at Jiabo Hot Spring (38.790355, 98.665485).
In the upper Heihe River Valley the scenery, not the birds, was the star. Stretches of the valley are every bit as stunning as the better-known areas along the G214 between Gonghe and Yushu. The landscape we were admiring in the Heihe Valley was particularly reminiscent of the landscape along the X731, which runs through the upper Yellow River Valley in Maduo County. In both places one sees a powerful stream near its birthplace coursing through a broad valley, with the mountains that are the father of those waters looming behind. (There are more snowy peaks at this northerly location.)
As we drove west along the Heihe River, we came to appreciate the rareness of the riverside poplar woodlands that we had left behind. We found just one or two more. As we rose, the gorge grew steeper, and conifer woodlands predominated.
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 3 (3180-3600 m)
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 2 (3220 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 16 (3180 m) Cuculus sp. 3 (3220-3490 m)
Little Owl Athene noctua 2 (3180 m)
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 50 (3180 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 (3220 m)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1 (3180 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 15 (3220-3310 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 11 (3180-3530 m)
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 20 (3180 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 100 (3180 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 55 (3220-3490 m)
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 1 (3520 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 1 (3600 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart P. erythrogastrus 7 (3310-3520 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 26 (3220-3770 m)
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus 18 (3180-3490 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 2 (3180 m)
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 1 (3180 m)
Brown Accentor P. fulvescens 2 (3180 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 1 (3220 m)
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 8 (3180-3490 m)
Streaked Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilloides 3 (3520 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 11 (3180-3520 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 25 (3180 m)
Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi 2 (3490 m)
Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 150 (3180-3600 m)
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 2 (3180 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 30 (3600 m)
Siberian Roe Deer Capreolus pygargus 1 (3520 m)
Black Kite Milvus migrans 3 (3140 m)
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 10 (2800 m)
Hill Pigeon C. rupestris 2 (3140 m)
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 3 (2840 m)
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 1 (2800 m)
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius 1 (3140 m)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 2 (2800 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 2 (2800 m)
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 5 (2840 m)
Rufous-vented Tit Periparus rubidiventris 4 (3140 m)
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis 1 (3140 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 10 (3250-3530 m)
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides 2 (3140 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 6 (3140-3250 m)
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 4 (3140 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2 (3140-3470 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20 (2800 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 30 (3140-3530 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 2 (3470 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 3 (3020 m)
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 4 (3250 m)
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola 1 (3530 m)
Pink-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus waltoni 1 (3140 m)
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 2 (2800 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1 (2730 m)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 3 (2850 m)
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 4 (2950 m)
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 3 (3500 m)
Buff-barred Warbler P. pulcher 2 (3500 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 8 (3500 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 1 (3430 m)
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 1 singing (2950 m)
Pink-rumped Rosefinch C. waltoni 3 (3500 m)
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius 1 (3160 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20 (2730 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 4 (2860-3150 m)
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 3 (3500 m)
Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 10 (3370-3500 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 2 (3450 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 7 (3160 m)
Black Kite Milvus migrans 1 (2750 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 4 (2880-2940 m)
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1 (3000 m)
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 3 calling (3000 m)
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 3 (3100 m)
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 1 (3050 m)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 5 (3000 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 17 (2940-3120 m)
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 15 (1 juv.) at 3100 m
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 2 (3020 m)
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 2 (3040 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 1 (3020 m)
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides 11 (2880 m)
White-capped Redstart Phoenicurus leucocephalus 1 (3170 m)
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 1 (2880 m)
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 2 (3160 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2 (3340 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 12 (2890 m)
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos fronto 1 (3260 m)
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 2 (3000 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 7 (3100 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20 (3100 m)
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 5 (3280-3340 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 20 (3200-3340 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 1 (3860 m)
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 2 (3480 m)
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 9 (3430-3860 m)
Little Owl Athene noctua 1 (3540 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 8 (3480-3860 m)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3 (3640 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 2 (3590-3860 m)
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 5 (3430-3480 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 4 (3770 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 30 (3430-3660 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 2 (3860 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 11 (3570-3860 m)
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 2 (3790-3860 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 60 (3430-3860 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 25 (3430-3860 m)
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta blakistoni 1 nesting at Jiabo Hot Spring (3790 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 2 (3790 m)
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos fronto 5 (3590 m)
Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 50 (3430-3950 m)
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 1 (3760 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 100 (3430-4130 m)
Places Mentioned in This Post
Note: Many places in Qinghai have Tibetan or Mongolian names. For simplicity I have written place names only in English, simplified Chinese, and Pinyin.
Babao River (Bābǎo Hé [八宝河]): tributary of Heihe River. Confluence at Qinghai-Gansu border in Qilian County.
Babao Zhen (Bābǎo Zhèn [八宝镇]): see Qilian Xiancheng.
Chengxi District (Chéngxī Qū [城西区]): district Xining Prefecture. Along with other nearby urbanized districts, commonly referred to as Xining.
Dipanzi Village (Dìpánzi Cūn [地盘子村]): settlement Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture. Forest of Small-leaf Poplar across Heihe River at 38.212130, 100.160214.
Dongguan Mosque (Xīníng Shì Dōngguān Qīngzhēn Dàsì [西宁市东关清真大寺]): largest mosque in Qinghai. Built 1380. 36.615301, 101.797987.
Haibei Prefecture (Hǎiběi Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海北藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai. Area: 39,354 sq. km (15,195 sq. mi.). Full name: Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Heihe River (Hēi Hé [黑河]): river NW China rising on N side of Qilian Mountains in Gansu, flowing through Haibei Prefecture in Qinghai, & returning to Gansu, where it runs through Hexi Corridor before drying up in Gobi Desert in W Inner Mongolia. Length: 630 km (391 mi.). Lower reaches known as Ruo Shui (Ruò Shuǐ [弱水]).
Huangshui River (Huángshuǐ Hé [湟水河]): largest tributary of Yellow River. Runs through Xining.
Jiabo Hot Spring (Jiǎbō Wēnquán [甲波温泉]): thermal spring Qilian County on S204. Elev. 3790 m (12,430 ft.). 38.790355, 98.665485.
Menyuan County (Ményuán Huízú Zìzhìxiàn [门源回族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haibei Prefecture.
Found at Nanhui on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016: Pomarine Skua (called Pomarine Jaeger in North America and by the IOC). This first record for Shanghai was discovered by local birder Hé Xīn (何鑫) in the defunct nature reserve 1.4 km inland from the East China Sea. Kai Pflug was also on hand. Hé Xīn and Kai spread the news through our Shanghai Birding WeChat group, and the next day Elaine Du and I found the skua at the same spot (30.921625, 121.958940). The skua stayed four days, until Sat. 22 Oct.
The seabird appeared healthy, alternately feeding, preening, and roosting. Its plumage was shiny, and I saw no evidence of injury. It was a healthy refugee blown west by Typhoon Haima.
As sightings of skuas on the Chinese coast are rare, and because skuas have a bewildering array of plumages, at first there was some confusion about the species of our bird. It soon became clear that the vagrant was either Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus or Arctic Skua (IOC: Parasitic Jaeger) S. parasiticus. But which?
POMARINE ID BASICS
To answer that question, we needed photos, and so on Thurs. 20 Oct. Elaine and I drove to Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Pudong.
We quickly found and photographed the bird. After examining our images, talking to other birders, and studying the books, we determined that it is a pale-morph adult pomarinus in non-breeding plumage. Here’s why:
— S. pomarinus is larger and bulkier than the other jaegers (small skuas), in particular the jaeger that it most resembles, S. parasiticus. The jaeger we found was large and bulky.
National Geographic describes pomarinus as a “bulky brute with a commanding presence [and a] thick bull-neck–a Rottweiler among the jaegers.” S. pomarinus, Geographic adds, “is the bulkiest [jaeger] and appears pot-bellied and very deep at the chest. … Often it appears there is more body before the wing than behind the wing.”
The image above is in line with that description. Below, another image illustrating the bulky shape and barrel chest.
— In adult pale-morph pomarinus, the black helmet reaches below the gape, and black plumage surrounds the base of the bill. Most pale-morph parasiticus show a white spot at the base of the upper mandible and a less-extensive helmet that does not reach below the gape.
Below, another close-up of the head. Note here and above that, unusually for pomarinus, the bill appears almost all-black.
— Adult pale-morph pomarinus is more heavily barred than parasiticus. Most adult pale-morph pomarinus show a coarse breast band and dark barring on the flanks. Most adult pale-morph parasiticus show a diffuse greyish-brown breast band and lack barring on the flanks.
There are several other ID points, some of them, such as tail streamers, not visible in The Shanghai Skua. The points discussed above, however, are enough, we think, to clinch the ID.
Enjoy these other photos of the rarity.
The skua was very tame and performed various functions in its unaccustomed surroundings. It scratched itself (below), bathed, scavenged dead fish, and occasionally took short flights.
Its most common activity was roosting on the mud bank.
Kai Pflug got the photo below of the skua with wings upraised. Note the unbarred underwing and pale flash at the base of the primaries, further evidence that the skua is an adult.
Hé Xīn (below) found The Shanghai Skua on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016, a historic first record for Shanghai. The next day I met Hé Xīn at the site.
RARE AUTUMN RECORD OF NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER
On Thurs. 20 Oct. and Sun. 23 Oct. 2016, Elaine Du and I birded Nanhui and the sod farm south of Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). On 23 Oct. Elaine and I were joined by British birder Michael Grunwell. The two days yielded 92 species. After the Pomarine Jaeger, the big news was rare autumn sightings of Narcissus Flycatcher, another record of Nordmann’s Greenshank, and still more evidence that the highly threatened Nanhui wetland is much depended on by Black-faced Spoonbill.
On 20 Oct. in the canal at the base of the sea wall at Nanhui, Elaine and I had 18 Mandarin Duck and 2 season’s first Greater Scaup. On 23 Oct., the Nanhui microforests yielded Eurasian Woodcock, Ashy Minivet, Siberian Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, and season’s first Pale Thrush. A male Siberian Rubythroat popped out of the undergrowth and a Northern Boobook dozed before a crowd of photographers. At the line of trees (30.859995, 121.910061) near South Lock, 6 km south of the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489), we had season’s first Tristram’s Bunting. Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) is attracting ducks again, the most notable Sunday being season’s first Tufted Duck and Common Pochard.
The sod farm, which we visited Sunday morning, and which lies just off the S32 freeway, was worth the small investment of time required to get there. The grassy area gave us an unusually large (80) group of Red-throated Pipit. In Nanhui, we have been experiencing this species only in fly-by mode, but at the farm dozens of them were feeding on the ground. Michael and I studied the pipits carefully and concluded the group was pure Red-throated; we saw not a single Buff-bellied Pipit.
Ducks are once again gracing the canals and ponds of Nanhui. The most numerous were, as expected, Eastern Spot-billed Duck (285 over the two days) and Eurasian Teal (270 on 23 Oct.). Less numerous was Eurasian Wigeon, and there were sprinklings of Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Garganey.
— Uniquely among the Shanghai region’s passage-migrant flycatchers, most of which appear in roughly equal numbers on both the spring and autumn migrations, Narcissus Flycatcher appears almost exclusively on the spring migration. We were therefore pleasantly surprised Sunday to see the three males and three females. Did Typhoon Haima send them our way? What are the migration patterns of this beautiful flycatcher?
— The importance of the Nanhui wetlands–as well as the dangers they face–can hardly be overstated. On 20 Oct. at the skua site, Hé Xīn told me that the defunct wetland in which we were standing would already have been utterly transformed by now had it not been for the intervention of Chinese birders, who secured a one-year delay. Within a radius of a few hundred meters of the skua site stood 24 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and an endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. The dependence of Black-faced Spoonbill on the defunct wetland reserve is obvious and could be demonstrated by a group of high-schoolers doing a science project. Shanghai lies at the mouth of one of Earth’s greatest waterways (the Yangtze River) and is a major point on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway–yet this wealthy city, a world financial center with a rich natural heritage, entirely lacks an easily accessible wetland reserve on its mainland. The one, weak attempt–the defunct Nanhui reserve, with its crumbling buildings, torn-up boardwalk, and rotting signs–stands near the gallows, in the nick of time being given a stay of execution. And yet, even now, the defunct reserve, mismanaged, unloved, and undervalued, even now the place still attracts Class A birds! When, oh when, will the Shanghai government and Shanghai people learn to value at their true worth their spoonbills, greenshanks, and vagrant skuas? When, I ask, will they see as an asset to be cherished, and not a burden to be cast away, the thousands of birds that migrate through Earth’s greatest city? When will the Shanghai people apply their renowned cleverness and skill to protecting, rather than dredging up the home of, the symbol of their city, Reed Parrotbill? When will Shanghai take a cue from Hong Kong and build its own Mai Po? When will it follow the example of Singapore and create its own Sungei Buloh?
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 15
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3 tschutschensis
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 10 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 6
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 80
List 2 of 2 for Sun. 23 Oct. 2016 (73 species). 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. List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Morning drizzle, turning partly cloudy. Low 19° C, high 23° C. Humidity 75%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind NNE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 76 (moderate). Sunrise 06:04, sunset 17:12. SUN 23 OCT 2016 08:05-16:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 50
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 22
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 160
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 16
Northern Pintail A. acuta 3
Garganey A. querquedula 2
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 270
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 21
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 58
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 20
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 60
Great Egret A. alba 20
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 10
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 150
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 2
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 10
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 8
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 28
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 15
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 36
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 15
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 20
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 40
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 60
Vega Gull Larus vegae vagae/L. v. mongolicus 1
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 1
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 10
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 12
Northern Boobook Ninox japonica 2
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1
Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 8
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 30
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 7
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 12
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 22
Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica 1
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 6
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 2
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica 6
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 5
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 5
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina 6
Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki 8
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 11
White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 150
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 13
White Wagtail M. alba 16
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 8
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 2
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 3
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 6
WORKS CONSULTED Note: Nearly every major field guide covers skuas, a cosmopolitan family. This is a partial list showing the main works I consulted as I researched Stercorariidae.
Alderfer, Jonathan, ed. National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, 2006. Section “Skuas, Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers” by N.G. Howell and Alvaro Jaramillo. Jaegers, pp. 237-9.
Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. News about the sighting of Pomarine Skua was disseminated by Hé Xīn and Kai Pflug through this chat group. To join Shanghai Birding, fill out the form on our Sightings page.