About a hundred Hooded Crane winter on Chongming, the great alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze. On the eastern tip of the island, Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve protects the cranes and dozens of other key species. Map below shows main sites:
Eastern Chongming Island is made for car-birding. A typical route would start at the place marked “Chongming Dike” on the map above and wrap around 8 km to “South Entrance to Dike.” The dike is however sometimes closed off to vehicles. For best results, arrive early.
While on the dike, using your spotting scope note migrants and overwintering birds such as Common Crane accompanying the Hooded Crane and threatened species such as Swan Goose and Far Eastern Curlew. Ducks are common, with several species of Anas and other genera such as Mergus (Common Merganser, very rarely Scaly-sided Merganser) and Tadorna (Ruddy Shelduck, very rarely Common Shelduck). Look carefully in the beds below for Reed Parrotbill. Among your Circus species will be Hen Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, and the occasional Pied Harrier. In the reeds atop the dike and in the bushes popping up here and there, it’s possible to view birds arriving after a long migratory flight. Siberian Thrush and Arctic Warbler have shown up looking haggard and hungry.
The fields, ponds, marshes, and canals just inside the dike are productive. When water in the ponds is low, waders arrive, with Black-faced Spoonbill always a valuable record and Temminck’s Stint sometimes seen. Look for migrating passerines such as Red-throated Pipit and taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail. Look overhead for Peregrine Falcon.
In recent years, more fields have lain fallow and thick grasses and scrub have returned, providing ideal habitat for flocks containing hundreds of Brambling. Look for several species of bunting, among them the beautiful Chestnut-eared Bunting, a colony of which has been spending the winters there, along with Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Just about any migrating passerine is likely to show up in the new thickets, among them Siberian Rubythroat and even scarce species such as Brown-eared Bulbul. Long-eared Owl has appeared around those fields, and I have seen Japanese Reed Bunting. Hooded Crane roost in the stubbly fields, and Chinese Grey Shrike and Black-winged Kite have had a sustained presence there.
The first wooded areas lie several hundred meters inland and so have little of the visible migration to show. Japanese Waxwing and Bohemian Waxwing have appeared on berry-laden trees, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk have been known to birdwatch there. Among the many common wintering species are Pale Thrush and Dusky Thrush.
My teams usually bird four to six hours around Chongming Dongtan before heading to another site. We drive out from the city on the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel and Bridge. Sometimes we return to the city, and sometimes we continue on to Jiangsu over the Chongming-Qidong Yangtze River Bridge.
Featured image: 4 Hooded Crane and 1 Common Crane, Chongming Island, 11 Dec. 2014. Middle crane is Common. (Craig Brelsford)