I’m Skeptical About Claims of Green-backed Flycatcher in Shanghai

Does Green-backed Flycatcher Ficedula elisae migrate through Shanghai? Records exist of the species, but in my opinion they are mainly misidentifications of female Narcissus Flycatcher F. narcissina narcissina (above). In this post, I am going to unearth the roots of my skepticism about F. elisae in Shanghai and describe the differences between female F. elisae and female F. n. narcissina.

Adult-male Narcissus Flycatcher (L) and Green-backed Flycatcher (R).
I am skeptical about claims of Green-backed Flycatcher Ficedula elisae in Shanghai. One reason is that all the claims involve females, never the adult male (R), which is highly distinctive and readily separable from male Narcissus Flycatcher F. narcissina narcissina (L). If male elisae is unknown in this city, then the elisae we see in Shanghai would all be females, a curious and unlikely phenomenon. L: Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, May 2012. R: Wulingshan, Hebei, June 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Each spring and autumn, birders in Earth’s Greatest City claim records of elisae. Invariably, the bird in question is a female, not the very distinctive adult male. Here our first red flag pops up: How likely is it that elisae is the one species of passerine whose records in Shanghai never involve adult males?

For the sake of argument, let us admit the possibility of an all-female migration of elisae through Shanghai. Fine, I retort; then show me photos of these purported elisae. The photos are duly supplied, and again and again, as has been the case throughout my more than 10 years in Shanghai, the supposed F. elisae is revealed on closer scrutiny to be yet another female F. n. narcissina.

Indeed, I have seen better documentation in Shanghai of Ryukyu Flycatcher F. (narcissina) owstoni than of F. elisae; on 17 April 2016 at Pudong’s Binjiang Forest Park, Shanghai birder Zhang Xiaolei got a very interesting picture of a possible adult-male owstoni.

Mistakes of the sort many Shanghai birders are making contribute to a distorted picture of the presence on the central Chinese coast of a little-known species. What’s more, the mistakes are avoidable. Separation of female F. elisae and F. n. narcissina is usually straightforward.

Female Narcissus Flycatcher (L) and female Blue-and-white Flycatcher (R). (Craig Brelsford)
Female Narcissus Flycatcher (L) shows brownish-green upperpart coloration reminiscent of female Blue-and-white Flycatcher (R). (Craig Brelsford)

Female F. elisae has greenish upperparts with a yellowish or olive tint. Female F. n. narcissina is greenish with a brownish tint, like female Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana (above). On their underparts, female F. elisae is “dull yellow or yellowish-buff,” while F. n. narcissina is mainly off-white, with brownish-white flanks and a hint of yellow on the throat and belly (Brazil).

We can say, therefore, that unlike Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, female F. elisae and F. n. narcissina are distinguishable by plumage. A good look or good photo will likely lead to an accurate ID.

Accurate records in Shanghai, one of the most thoroughly birded areas on the Chinese coast, will lead to better understandings of both F. elisae and F. n. narcissina. Already, the growing body of knowledge about these East Asian breeding endemics has led to the separation of F. elisae and F. n. narcissina into separate species. Previously, elisae had been treated as a subspecies of Narcissus Flycatcher.

Narcissus Flycatcher, Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016.
Narcissus Flycatcher, Cape Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016. Note the brownish-green coloration of the mantle, back, and rump of the female. I included an image of the male because in this instance, and as is often the case in Shanghai, the male was associating with the female. The association suggests the birds are of the same species and bolsters the ID of the female as F. n. narcissina. (Craig Brelsford)

We know as well that the summer and winter ranges of the sister species are disjunct, with F. elisae breeding in a very compact range in Hebei (Wulingshan), Beijing, and Shanxi and wintering in southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia. The breeding range of F. n. narcissina includes the main islands of Japan as well as the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, and the coastal Russian Far East. The species winters in Hainan, the Philippines, and Borneo and passes through Shanghai each spring from about 15 April to 15 May.

Unlike other passage-migrant flycatchers in Shanghai, F. n. narcissina is much less common in autumn than in spring. That is a mystery, one of many surrounding the migration of the Narcissus Flycatcher group.

In light of the information deficit, it behooves us Shanghai birders to strive for accurate records (or non-records) of elisae in our region. Let us practice self-discipline, hone our skills, and give outside observers the clearest possible picture of bird migration in Shanghai.

REFERENCES

Brazil, Mark. 2009. Birds of East Asia. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Entries for Narcissus Flycatcher and Chinese Flycatcher (Ficedula elisae), p. 436.

Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3). shanghaibirding.com’s first reference for taxonomy as well as bird names in English.

Below are links to photos of female elisae:

Oriental Bird Images (orientalbirdimages.org). “Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina elisae – Female.” Accessed 21 Oct. 2017.

———. “Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina elisae – Female.” Accessed 21 Oct. 2017.

———. “Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina elisae – Female.” Accessed 21 Oct. 2017.

———. “Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina elisae – Female.” Accessed 21 Oct. 2017.

Featured image: Adult-female Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina narcissina, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, China. 2 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Gansu Bluetail, Wulingshan, Hebei

Editor’s note: Our featured image above shows the bluetails of the world: Himalayan (left panels), Red-flanked (right panels), and in the middle the inscrutable “Gansu” Bluetail. In this post, I report a new eastern record of “Gansu” and discuss the current taxonomic limbo of the form.

Found at Wulingshan, Hebei, 11 June 2017: “GansuBluetail Tarsiger (cyanurus? rufilatus?) “albocoeruleus.” Our record is the first for the mountain northeast of Beijing, the first for Chengde Prefecture in Hebei, and the easternmost in history for the form. Until recently, “Gansu” Bluetail was thought to breed only in Qinghai and Gansu, 1200 km (745 miles) to the southwest.

In Beijing, Hebei, and Shanxi, “albocoeruleus” has now been found on at least six mountains. Before our discovery, the easternmost of those mountains was Haituoshan, 140 air-km (87 air-miles) west of Wulingshan. Our record pushes the eastern edge of the range of “albocoeruleus” from the western side of Beijing to the mountains northeast of the metropolis.

The taxonomy of “Gansu” Bluetail is uncertain. It is currently recognized neither as a species in its own right nor as a subspecies of Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus or Himalayan Bluetail T. rufilatus. Adult-male “albocoeruleus” have a white supercilium as in cyanurus, and “albocoeruleus” are said to be closer genetically to cyanurus, but the legs of “albocoeruleus” are long, as in rufilatus.

'Gansu' Bluetail. This second-calendar-year male had not attained breeding plumage but was singing powerfully. Craig Brelsford.
‘Gansu’ Bluetail, Wulingshan. Though it had not acquired adult plumage, this second-calendar-year male was singing powerfully and defending territory. We found the bluetail near the road to Wāitáo Fēng (歪桃峰) at 40.598801, 117.476280, elev. 2020 m. (Craig Brelsford)

The song of “Gansu” Bluetail is distinct from the songs of Red-flanked and Himalayan. Listen to “Gansu”:

“Gansu” Bluetail Tarsiger (cyanurus? rufilatus?) “albocoeruleus,” Wulingshan (40.598801, 117.476280), Hebei, 11 June 2017 (00:06; 1.3 MB)

Compare my very different song of Red-flanked Bluetail:

Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus, Cow’s Ear River (51.548528, 121.880737), Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 14 July 2015 (00:03; 913 KB)

Now compare the song of Himalayan Bluetail, by Mike Nelson via xeno-canto.org:

Listen to this other recording by Mike Nelson, also labeled “Himalayan Bluetail”:

The second recording by Nelson is of “albocoeruleus.” It was made in Haidong Prefecture in eastern Qinghai, a place known as a breeding site for “albocoeruleus.” Note the similarity between Nelson’s recording from Haidong and mine from Wulingshan.

Usually, a bird with a song as distinctive as that of “albocoeruleus” would rise to at least the subspecies level. Why, then, is “albocoeruleus” languishing in taxonomic limbo?

Adult-male Narcissus Flycatcher (L) and Green-backed Flycatcher bear little resemblance to one another but were long classified as a single species. The situation was owing more to a dearth of research than to any intrinsic ID difficulties among the two species. Craig Brelsford.
Although adult-male Narcissus Flycatcher (L) and Green-backed Flycatcher (R) bear little resemblance to one another, the two species were long classified as one. The situation was owing not to difficulties in ID but to a lack of research. L: Yangkou-Rudong, Jiangsu, 29 April 2012. R: Wulingshan, 10 June 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

The reason may be a simple lack of research. Many species endemic or nearly endemic to China have only recently begun to be fine-tuned taxonomically. Green-backed Flycatcher Ficedula elisae, another bird we noted at Wulingshan, was long considered conspecific with Narcissus Flycatcher F. narcissina, despite the two species having widely separated breeding areas, highly distinctive plumage (especially males), and songs so different that playback of one species elicits no interest from individuals of the other (Clement 2006).

Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis is another species that was long overlooked. It differs subtly but consistently from Blue-and-white Flycatcher C. cyanomelana but was not recognized as a new species until 2012 (Leader & Carey 2012). Zappey’s also breeds on Wulingshan.

Will “Gansu” Bluetail get the same love and attention as Green-backed and Zappey’s Flycatcher? Researchers surely must be aware of the taxonomic uncertainty surrounding “Gansu.” Its distinctive song is a cry in the wilderness, a plea for a more accurate assessment of its place in the animal kingdom.

BIRDING REPORT: WULINGSHAN

L-R: Jan-Erik Nilsén, Michael Grunwell and Craig Brelsford. Wulingshan, Hebei, 11 June 2017.
Birding partners Jan-Erik Nilsén (L), Michael Grunwell (C), and Craig Brelsford on Wāitáo Fēng (歪桃峰), elev. 2118 m, the highest peak at Wulingshan. 11 June 2017. Our trio really clicks, but alas, it is breaking up. Michael is moving 30 June from Shanghai to Penang, Malaysia and was on his final birding trip in China. Beijing-based Jan-Erik has noted ‘Gansu’ Bluetail on six mountains and was instrumental in our discovery of the form at Wulingshan. No two birders have taught me more about birds than Michael and Jan-Erik.

Who: Shanghai birders Michael Grunwell and Craig Brelsford guided by Beijing-based ace birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. Our driver was Mr. Wang (+86 189-1129-3689).

Where: Wulingshan (雾灵山, 40.598801, 117.476280), Hebei, near Beijing-Hebei border northeast of Beijing. Highest elevation: 2118 m (6,949 ft.). Birding from elev. 950 m to summit. Nights and meals at Fúlíng Kuàijié Jiǔdiàn (伏凌快捷酒店), +86 314-7631888, +86 187-3147-7899.

When: Sat.-Sun. 10-11 June 2017

How: Eschewing undependable air travel, Michael and I took the bullet train from Shanghai. What a ride! 305 kph and arrival in Beijing within a minute of the time scheduled. Then a driver hired by Jan-Erik picked us up for the three-hour drive to Wulingshan. The driver accompanied us there and drove us back to Beijing.

Why: See Highlights. ’Nuff said!

Highlights

GansuBluetail 1 2cy male singing

UPDATE, 24 JUNE 2017: James Eaton from Birdtour Asia very kindly shared with me a photo of an adult-male “Gansu” Bluetail taken June 2011 at Huzhu Beishan, Haidong Prefecture, Qinghai. Eaton related his experience with the form:

“I’ve seen [‘Gansu’ Bluetail] north of Xining, Qinghai Province, as well as at Huzhu Beishan and Dong Xia. Though they superficially look similar to Red-flanked/Siberian Bluetail, they differ significantly vocally–as they do from Himalayan Bluetail, which is found breeding to the southeast and south in nearby Sichuan and eastern Qinghai” (Eaton, in litt., 2017).

James Eaton from Birdtour Asia very kindly shared with me a photo of an adult-male 'Gansu' Bluetail taken June 2011 at Huzhu Beishan, Haidong Prefecture, Qinghai. (James Eaton/Birdtour Asia)
‘Gansu’ Bluetail, Huzhu Beishan, Qinghai, June 2011. (James Eaton/Birdtour Asia)

Zappey’s Flycatcher 1 singing

UPDATE, 24 JUNE 2017: After an e-mail exchange with Paul Leader and Geoff Carey, I have changed my record of Zappey’s Flycatcher to Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana intermedia. The bird we found at Wulingshan is a male in its second calendar year that has not attained full adult plumage.

Of this flycatcher, photos and sound-recordings of which Leader examined, Leader writes, “[T]he darkness of the throat on your bird is not correct for first-year Zappey’s. … Morphology fits intermedia. It certainly doesn’t fit cumatilis, and I don’t see any plumage features that indicate it’s a hybrid. I think it’s just a first-year intermedia, which accounts for plumage and perhaps the variation in song” (Leader et al., in litt., 2017).

For the song as well as for more photos of this individual, please see our eBird list for 11 June 2017.

Zappey's Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 11 June 2017. Wulingshan (雾灵山), Hebei, China. Photo taken at 40.565367, 117.472742 (elev. 1330 m). Craig Brelsford.
Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis, Wulingshan. Found 11 June at 40.565367, 117.472742, elev. 1330 m. Enjoy sound-recordings of this individual on our eBird checklist for 11 June. UPDATE, 24 JUNE 2017: After corresponding by e-mail with Paul Leader and Geoff Carey, I have changed this record to Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana intermedia. (Craig Brelsford)

Green-backed Flycatcher 3 singing

Grey-sided Thrush 12 singing

Grey-sided Thrush Turdus feae. Wulingshan (雾灵山), Hebei, China. Elev. 1610 m, on road above "Koklass Pheasant Parking Lot," 40.569817, 117.474469. Craig Brelsford.
Grey-sided Thrush Turdus feae, Wulingshan, 10 June. Found at elev. 1610 m on road above ‘Koklass Pheasant Parking Lot’ (40.569817, 117.474469). Grey-sided Thrush breeds at a few scattered sites in Hebei, Beijing, and Shanxi. The IUCN classifies it as Vulnerable. To hear my recordings of its song, see our eBird checklist for 10 June. (Craig Brelsford)

Also

Koklass Pheasant 2
Himalayan Cuckoo 3
Large Hawk-Cuckoo 1
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker 1
White-backed Woodpecker 3
White-throated Rock Thrush 1
Asian Stubtail 1
Thick-billed Warbler 1

Others

Grey Nightjar, White-bellied Redstart, Chinese Thrush, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler, and Yellow-streaked Warbler.

Notes

— We got impressive results in only a day and a half birding–albeit with perfect weather. Wulingshan can be done from Shanghai in a weekend!

— Special thanks to my partner ​Jan-Erik Nilsén. Jan-Erik heard the song of the bluetail, recognized it, and called me over. Jan-Erik is highly experienced with “Gansu” Bluetail, having seen and sound-recorded the form on Haituoshan as well as at Lingshan and Baicaopan (BeijingHebei), Xiaowutaishan (Hebei), and Wutaishan (Shanxi).

— Thanks also to Paul Holt for informing me about records of “Gansu” Bluetail in the Beijing area.

References

Brelsford, C. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37503446. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York, USA. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: June 24, 2017). Editor’s note: This is the Wulingshan list for 10 June 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37519385. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York, USA. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: June 24, 2017). Editor’s note: This is the Wulingshan list for 11 June 2017.

Clement, P. (2006). Family Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers). Pp. 131-2 (Narcissus Flycatcher) in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 11. Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Eaton, James. E-mail message to author, 18 June 2017.

Leader, Paul J. & Carey, Geoff J. Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis, a forgotten Chinese breeding endemic. Forktail 28 (2012): 121-128.

Leader, Paul J., Carey, Geoff J., Brelsford, Craig, Grunwell, Michael, and Nilsén, Jan-Erik. Series of e-mail messages, 18-20 June 2017.

Featured image: Left-hand panels: Himalayan Bluetail Tarsiger rufilatus. Top: Baihualing, Yunnan, 10 Feb. 2014. Bottom: Rongshu Wang, Yunnan, 26 Jan. 2014. C: “GansuBluetail T. (cyanurus? rufilatus?) “albocoeruleus,” Wulingshan (40.598801, 117.476280), Hebei, 11 June 2017. Right-hand panels: Red-flanked Bluetail T. cyanurus, Botanical Gardens, Shanghai. Top: 25 Dec. 2011. Bottom: 24 Dec. 2011. All by Craig Brelsford.

Studying Northeast China Woodland Birds in Elaine’s Hometown

From 26 May 2016 to last Sunday (12 June), Elaine Du and I were in her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang. We birded 15 of those days, mainly around Xidaquan National Forest, and noted 84 species. Our bird of the trip was Band-bellied Crake, and we found breeding Eurasian Eagle-Owl. We noted in full breeding mode many birds that we had previously known only as passage migrants in Shanghai; we enjoyed for the first time the songs of Siberian Blue Robin, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, White-throated Rock Thrush, Siberian Thrush, and many other species.

In this post, you will get an introduction to Boli and eastern Heilongjiang, you will discover the birds we met up there at the height of the breeding season, you will learn about the birds we missed, and you will find out how Elaine and I combine birding with family. There are as well 31 of my sound-recordings of Boli birds and plenty of photos.

For the full report on our spring 2016 trip, including daily lists and a master list detailing where and when we encountered each species, click here. For the report on Elaine’s and my first two trips together to her hometown, click here.

Why Should Birders Care about Boli?

Silver Birch Grove (白桦林), one of the attractions of Xidaquan National Forest in Boli County, Heilongjiang.
Silver Birch Grove (白桦林), one of the attractions of Xidaquan National Forest in Boli County, Heilongjiang.

Boli County is a good place to study the woodland birds of the eastern Palearctic. Its forests, remnants of the ancient northern temperate forest that once stretched unbroken across the region, hold northern species absent further south in China. In springtime, Boli County is the breeding home of birds that in the more densely populated southern regions of China appear only as passage migrants or winter visitors.

Background

Boli County lies within the Amur Basin of Northeast China. It is part of Qitaihe Prefecture in eastern Heilongjiang, not far from the Sino-Russian border. Map courtesy Wikipedia.
Boli County lies within the Amur Basin of Northeast China. It is part of Qitaihe Prefecture in eastern Heilongjiang, not far from the Sino-Russian border. Map courtesy Wikipedia.

In January 2015 Elaine and I were married in Dawucun, where Elaine was born. During breaks in the festivities, I explored the frozen country. Expecting to find only magpies and sparrows, I was pleasantly surprised to find forested hills near the village and good birds such as Rough-legged Buzzard. I vowed to return and bird the area thoroughly.

In August and September 2015, Elaine and I fulfilled that goal. During a 32-day visit to her hometown, Elaine and I discovered Xidaquan National Forest, a 9,400-hectare reserve in the Laoye Mountains. Xidaquan preserves a remnant of the northern temperate forest that once covered the region. We were thoroughly impressed and made plans to bird the area yet again, this time during breeding season. The trip described here is the realization of that plan.

For Elaine and me, birding trips to Boli are special because they combine Northeast China birding with family. Elaine is never happier than when she is with her parents and two elder sisters, and I not only like her family but also appreciate the opportunity they give me to learn about Chinese culture.

Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.
Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.

Like many residents of the Northeast, Elaine is descended from migrants who chuǎng Guāndōng (闯关东)–“leapt” north, mainly from Hebei and Shandong, to farm areas of Guandong (Manchuria) formerly closed to Han Chinese settlement. In Elaine’s case, the settlers were her parents, who left Shandong in the 1970s.

The settlement of the Northeast by Han farmers is a major event in Chinese history, like the settling of the West is to Americans. The transformation the migration has wrought on the land has been profound. In eastern Heilongjiang, the toil of thousands of farmers has converted the land from an endless forest into a vast maize field. Where tigers once roared, magpies now caw.

Amid the sea of grain fields are islands of the old Manchurian forest. One of the best is Xidaquan National Forest, just 25 km from Boli Town. After our discovery of Xidaquan in the summer of 2015, we turned it into our laboratory in which to study the birds of the eastern Palearctic woodlands. We have now spent 20 days birding in the reserve–12 days in summer 2015 and eight days in spring 2016.

Key Birds

Streamside habitat at Xidaquan, 28 May 2016. Gray's Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler use the thick vegetation along the unseen stream. Siberian Rubythroat and Thick-billed Warbler forage among the scrubby plants in the foreground. Common Cuckoo and Oriental Cuckoo call, and Dusky Warbler sing. Eastern Buzzard soar overhead.
Streamside habitat at Xidaquan, 28 May 2016. Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler use the thick vegetation along the unseen stream. Siberian Rubythroat and Thick-billed Warbler forage among the scrubby plants in the foreground. Common Cuckoo and Oriental Cuckoo call, and Dusky Warbler sing. Eastern Buzzard soar overhead.

A birder led blindfolded through southwestern Boli County in spring would be able to tell the quality of the forest by the birds he heard. The pine plantations are nearly silent. In recently cut areas where the forest has just begun to regenerate, one may hear a few Eastern Crowned Warbler, Radde’s Warbler, and Black-faced Bunting. If a layer of undergrowth has formed, then one may hear in addition to those species Thick-billed Warbler, Siberian Blue Robin, and Siberian Rubythroat. In places where most of the trees are hardwoods and have reached about 10 m in height, the sound of birdsong is constant throughout the day. Pale Thrush sing powerfully from perches hidden in the canopy, Yellow-throated Bunting sing from treetops and defend territory, Willow Tit, Coal Tit, and Japanese Tit sing their lively Parid songs, and White-throated Rock Thrush whistle in a minor key. The best places at Xidaquan are yet another cut above, being able to support the species mentioned above as well as more habitat-sensitive species such as Mandarin Duck, Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Lanceolated Warbler, Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, and White’s Thrush.

The following is a list of the key birds noted by Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du in spring 2016 in Boli County.

Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii

Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty. As soon as it called, I knew we had struck gold; I pulled out the camera and went to work. Nikon D3S, VR 600mm F/4G, F/9, 1/1000, ISO 1600.
Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty. As soon as it called, I knew we had struck gold; I pulled out the camera and went to work. Nikon D3S, VR 600mm F/4G, F/9, 1/1000, ISO 1600.

Our bird of the trip, found 8-9 June 2016 in a creek bottom in the Hongwei Linchang area 12 km south of Boli Town. A rare and little-known species, Band-bellied Crake is listed as near threatened by the IUCN. Band-bellied Crake breeds in Northeast China and the Russian Far East. It is threatened by habitat loss in its Southeast Asia wintering grounds as well as in Northeast China.

Band-bellied Crake, Hongwei Linchang, Boli, 9 June 2016 (00:26; 2.6 MB)

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo

We found a breeding pair with two owlets nesting at the high, inaccessible reaches of the big quarry at Jiulong Reservoir, where we also spotted the species in summer 2015. The giant owls are tolerant of the traffic from the road, and at a second, smaller quarry nearby, they tolerate noise from a busy poultry farm below. The owls perch conspicuously by day and are active in the villages at night. In summer 2015, eagle-owls would perch at night on the buildings of Elaine’s parents’ farm.

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata

Mandarin Duck atop a shed, 28 May 2016.
Mandarin Duck atop a shed, 28 May 2016.

Deep in the forests of Xidaquan, we found Mandarin Duck in ponds no larger than a kiddie pool. This shy species was also found on the large pond near the entrance to Xidaquan, in rice paddies in the villages, and in flocks in Jiulong Reservoir. In spring 2016 we recorded this species on eight of our 15 birding days and in summer 2015 on seven of our 27 birding days. Boli County is the heart of the Northeast China breeding range of this most beautiful of ducks.

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius

A graceful woodpecker and one of the stars of the Northeast Chinese forest, noted by us on three days in spring 2016 and on 11 days in summer 2015.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos. Female in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos. Female in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.

The most commonly noted Dendrocopos woodpecker, noted on 10 days in summer 2015 and six days in spring 2016.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor

Trans-Eurasian species, in China present only in Xinjiang and the Northeast. Noted by us just once in spring 2016. More conspicuous in summer 2015 (seen on six days) and winter 2015 (three days).

Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus

Noted on nine of our birding days, exclusively in the better forests around Xidaquan. Has softer version of the “Brain fever!” call of Large Hawk-Cuckoo.

Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (01:06; 3.4 MB)

Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus

Noted on eight days in Boli County in spring 2016. None of our records came from the higher-quality, higher-elevation forest deep in Xidaquan park but from the lower-quality, newer forests closer to the villages.

Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus

In contrast to Indian Cuckoo, in spring 2016 most of our records of Oriental Cuckoo, spanning 13 days, came from the deep forests of Xidaquan.

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

We heard the famous call of Common Cuckoo on 13 days. Most records came from open areas or from forested places near open areas.

Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus jotaka

We enjoyed pre-dawn views of this species roosting on County Road Z002 and heard its clattering call both at dawn and dusk.

Grey Nightjar calling at dawn, Blue-and-white Flycatcher in background, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (00:31; 2 MB)

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius brandtii

Cinnamon-headed ssp. brandtii is a treat for birders in Northeast China (also occurs in Xinjiang). Resident and conspicuous in all seasons.

Coal Tit Periparus ater ater

If this bird looks familiar to European birders, it's because it's the same nominate race of Coal Tit found in Continental Europe. Photo taken in hills S of Boli Town on 7 June 2016.
If this bird looks familiar to European birders, it’s because it’s the same nominate race of Coal Tit found in Continental Europe. Photo taken in hills S of Boli Town on 7 June 2016.

The trans-Eurasian, small-crested, nominate race (ater) is the representative of Coal Tit in Northeast China. Resident, regularly noted in small numbers, often in conifers.

Coal Tit 1/2, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (00:15; 2.2 MB)

Coal Tit 2/2, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (00:05; 1.7 MB)

Willow Tit Poecile montanus baicalensis

Versatile Willow Tit, resident in Boli County, flourishes in habitats ranging from scrubby new forest growth to primary forest. Noted on three days in winter 2015, 21 in summer 2015, and 11 in spring 2016.

Willow Tit, territorial call, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (00:14; 2.1 MB)

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus caudatus

The snowball-headed nominate ssp. ranges from Scandinavia east through Heilongjiang to Jilin. It lives year-round in Boli County. We noted it on seven days in spring 2016, on two days in winter 2015, and on 14 days in summer 2015. In late summer and winter it is often the main component of bird waves.

Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus

Eastern Crowned Warbler, Xidaquan National Forest, 29 May 2016.
Eastern Crowned Warbler, Xidaquan National Forest, 29 May 2016.

The most conspicuous leaf warbler in Boli. Noted by us on 10 days in summer 2015 and on 14 of our 15 birding days in spring 2016. Sings a diverse array of songs from dawn to dusk. In 2015 was singing and defending territory into mid-August, and non-singing individuals were noted as late as 3 Sept. Found in habitats mediocre as well as pristine.

Eastern Crowned Warbler 1/2, hills S of Dawucun, 5 June 2016 (00:04; 1.7 MB)

Eastern Crowned Warbler 2/2, Xidaquan, 29 May 2016 (00:40, 2.4 MB)

Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi

Radde's Warbler is a powerful singer and among the most conspicuous birds at Xidaquan National Forest.
Radde’s Warbler is a powerful singer and among the most conspicuous birds at Xidaquan National Forest.

Second only to Eastern Crowned Warbler as the most conspicuous leaf warbler, with a powerful song that belies its small size. Noted regularly in summer 2015 (10 days) and spring 2016 (12 days), mostly in the better forest and forest-edge habitat at Xidaquan.

Radde’s Warbler, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016 (02:51; 7.6 MB)

Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus

Noted on 10 days in spring 2016 and nine in summer 2015. Has less powerful song than Radde’s, lacking trills, and unlike Radde’s avoids deep forest. Often sings from conspicuous perch in high tree.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes

Recorded on nine days in spring 2016. Heard singing and seen defending territory. Usually found in the high canopy or middle canopy in the better sections of forest at Xidaquan. Elaine and I did not note this species in Boli in summer 2015.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Xidaquan, 10 June 2016 (02:00, 6.4 MB)

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus

Noted on nine days in spring 2016 and on 12 days in summer 2015. In both seasons was usually noted singing loudly from the top of the tallest tree in the vicinity.

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, hills S of Dawucun, 4 June 2016 (01:47; 5.1 MB)

Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis

Oriental Reed Warbler is known to be able to use marshy habitat with woody plants rather than reeds. As reeds are rare in the areas we bird in Boli County, our Oriental Reed Warbler were found among woody plants. Found on four days in spring 2016, mainly on the shore of Jiulong Reservoir.

Oriental Reed Warbler, Jiulong Reservoir, 10 June 2016 (00:06; 1.8 MB)

Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Noted on three days in spring 2016, with a high of 28 singing individuals being found 11 June along County Road Z002. Noted once in summer 2015.

Black-browed Reed Warbler, creek along County Road Z002, 11 June 2016 (01:40; 4.8 MB)

Thick-billed Warbler Iduna aedon

Thick-billed Warbler, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.
Thick-billed Warbler, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.

Noted on six days in spring 2016, in very good habitat at Xidaquan as well as more disturbed areas along the shore of Jiulong Reservoir.

Thick-billed Warbler, Xidaquan, 29 May 2016 (00:32; 2.1 MB)

Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata

Noted on six days in spring 2016, singing from thick cover in heavily wooded habitat along creeks at Xidaquan.

Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella fasciolata

Gray's Grasshopper Warbler on rare foray out of undergrowth. Xidaquan, 29 May 2016.
Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler on rare foray out of undergrowth. Xidaquan, 29 May 2016.

In spring 2016 we heard the bulbul-like call of this undergrowth skulker on seven days, exclusively in the high-quality habitat at Xidaquan.

Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (01:05; 3.4 MB)

Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica

Siberian Thrush, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.
Siberian Thrush, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.

Noted by us on five days in spring 2016, each time in high-quality forest at Xidaquan. Noted twice in summer 2015. Sings from conspicuous perch at top of tall tree.

Below is a recording of Siberian Thrush on a typical morning at Xidaquan. In the background you can hear Oriental Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, Radde’s Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler.

Siberian Thrush, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016 (00:51; 2.8 MB)

White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea

One of the rewards for waking early was hearing the monotonous, ventriloquial song of White’s Thrush. It normally calls unseen from deep within the forest and goes silent about an hour after sunrise. One morning Elaine and I saw this most secretive bird climb a tall tree and utter its mysterious call. The first, lower note was apparently hummed through its closed or barely open mouth, while for the high note the thrush gaped wide. At a location nearby I witnessed the ventriloquy. The low note seemed to be coming from a place to my right, while the high note seemed to be coming from a place in front of me. Only after a few minutes did I realize that a single unseen White’s Thrush was uttering both notes.

White’s Thrush, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (01:43; 4.9 MB)

Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum

This East Asian endemic was noted on nine days in spring 2016, singing and defending territory. Also noted on two days in summer 2015.

Grey-backed Thrush, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (08:17; 21.4 MB)

Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus

Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and five days in summer 2015. Shy. Sings powerfully from unseen perches deep in the forest. At dawn and dusk sometimes seen foraging on the roadside.

Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana

We found Mark Brazil’s description of the breeding habitat to be apt: “ … in forested mountains, generally in mature mixed broadleaf forest with dense undergrowth, often near streams … ” (Birds of East Asia). Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and on two days in summer 2015.

Blue-and-white Flycatcher, broadleaf forest near Xidaquan, 27 May 2016 (01:30; 4.4 MB)

Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane

Noted on 12 days in spring 2016, with a high of 21 individuals on 2 June. Its song, delivered from deep cover, consists of a burst of sound followed by a pause and buildup then another burst, each burst distinct from the other.

Siberian Blue Robin, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (02:42; 7.2 MB)

Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans

Noted on seven days in spring 2016, all records except one coming from deep cover along thickly vegetated creeks at Xidaquan. Song a descending trill.

Rufous-tailed Robin, Xidaquan, 28 May 2016 (01:01; 3.2 MB)

Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope

Siberian Rubythroat singing on utility wire, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.
Siberian Rubythroat singing on utility wire, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.

Noted on four days in spring 2016 and on one day in summer 2015. Usually hides in undergrowth, but at dawn and for a few hours thereafter may be seen singing from an exposed perch.

Siberian Rubythroat, Xidaquan, 28 May 2016 (02:20; 6.4 MB)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia

Sings a long, slow, deliberate, and loud song somewhat like that of Blue-and-white Flycatcher. Noted on 12 days in spring 2016.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, hills S of Dawucun, 5 June 2016 (00:58; 3.1 MB)

White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis

I learned the call of this East Asian specialty by doggedly following a bird that was singing and moving unseen in the canopy above me. Finally the secretive singer allowed me to glimpse him, and only then could I confirm that he was White-throated Rock Thrush. Noted on three days in spring 2016 and once in summer 2015.

White-throated Rock Thrush, Hongwei Linchang, 7 June 2016 (01:04; 4.1 MB)

Long-tailed Rosefinch Carpodacus sibiricus ussuriensis

Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and four days each in winter and summer 2015.

Meadow Bunting
Emberiza cioides weigoldi

Resident, recorded by us in winter, summer, and spring (five days in spring 2016). Seen at edges of farmland and in open areas near forests. Never in deep forests.

Meadow Bunting, forest edge at Dawucun, 31 May 2016 (00:58; 3.1 MB)

Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami

Forest bunting, with some association with conifers, commonly seen along the forest roads. Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and six days in summer 2015.

Tristram’s Bunting, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016 (00:11; 1.2 MB)

Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans

Forest bunting with a preference for deciduous habitats. Sings loudly and aggressively defends territory. Noted on nine days in spring 2016 and on 16 days in summer 2015.

Yellow-throated Bunting 1/2, song, hills S of Boli Town, 5 June 2016 (00:12; 1.3 MB)

Yellow-throated Bunting 2/2, alarm call, hills S of Dawucun, 7 June 2016 (00:50; 3.6 MB)

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala spodocephala

Black-faced Bunting, Xidaquan, May 2016. In spring, the song of this bunting is one of the most common bird sounds in the region.
Black-faced Bunting, Xidaquan, May 2016. In spring, the song of this bunting is one of the most common bird sounds in the region.

One of the most commonly noted birds in Boli, found on 14 days in spring 2016 and 12 days in summer 2015. Versatile, often at forest edge but also in areas with fewer trees.

Black-faced Bunting, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016 (00:44; 2.5 MB)

Species of Bird Noted in Boli County, Heilongjiang, May-June 2016 (84 species)

Mandarin Duck
Mallard
Eastern Spot-billed Duck
Common Pheasant
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Crested Honey Buzzard
Northern Goshawk
Eastern Buzzard
Band-bellied Crake
Little Ringed Plover
Common Sandpiper
Hill Pigeon
Oriental Turtle Dove
Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo
Indian Cuckoo
Oriental Cuckoo
Common Cuckoo
Eurasian Eagle-Owl
Grey Nightjar
White-throated Needletail
Oriental Dollarbird
Common Kingfisher
Eurasian Wryneck
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
White-backed Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
Common Kestrel
Eurasian Hobby
Ashy Minivet
Brown Shrike
Chinese Grey Shrike
Eurasian Jay
Azure-winged Magpie
Eurasian Magpie
Spotted Nutcracker
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Coal Tit
Willow Tit
Japanese Tit
Barn Swallow
Asian House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Long-tailed Tit
Dusky Warbler
Radde’s Warbler
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
Arctic Warbler
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Oriental Reed Warbler
Black-browed Reed Warbler
Thick-billed Warbler
Lanceolated Warbler
Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler
Chestnut-flanked White-eye
Eurasian Nuthatch
Siberian Thrush
White’s Thrush
Grey-backed Thrush
Pale Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Blue-and-white Flycatcher
Siberian Blue Robin
Rufous-tailed Robin
Siberian Rubythroat
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
Daurian Redstart
White-throated Rock Thrush
Stejneger’s Stonechat
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Siberian Accentor
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Olive-backed Pipit
Hawfinch
Long-tailed Rosefinch
Grey-capped Greenfinch
Meadow Bunting
Tristram’s Bunting
Chestnut-eared Bunting
Yellow-throated Bunting
Black-faced Bunting

Birds We Missed

The deep forest at Xidaquan. This seemingly stable environment shows a very different set of birds according to the season. In the area where this photo was taken, in August and September 2015 Elaine and I found Eurasian Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Yellow-browed Warbler. We saw none of those species in May and June 2016. Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, White's Thrush, and Lanceolated Warbler were in the same area in spring 2016.
The deep forest at Xidaquan. This seemingly stable environment shows a very different set of birds according to the season. In the area where this photo was taken, in August and September 2015 Elaine and I found Eurasian Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Yellow-browed Warbler. We saw none of those species in May and June 2016. Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, White’s Thrush, and Lanceolated Warbler were in the same area in spring 2016.

The forests of Boli County change markedly from season to season. On our brief initial trip in January 2015, winter visitors such as Common Redpoll, Eurasian Bullfinch, and Pallas’s Rosefinch were scraping out a living in the snowy, barren forests. In late summer bird waves are common, in springtime virtually non-existent. Late summer shows few birds in breeding mode but offers passage migrants. In springtime the songs of breeding birds resound.

Birds seen in one season may not be seen in another. In some cases, as with Hazel Grouse, it is easy to understand why. In other cases, the reason is less clear. Other birds, such as Red-flanked Bluetail, that one would expect in the region have yet to appear on any of our lists. Here are some of the birds we missed on our spring 2016 trip.

Hazel Grouse: On our summer 2015 expedition, Elaine and I noted this species on 10 days, both in the excellent habitat of Xidaquan and in the lower-quality forest in the hills south of Dawucun. We noted no Hazel Grouse in spring 2016. The grouse were breeding and had retired to the quiet recesses of the forest with their young.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Common in much of China, noted just once by Elaine and me in summer 2015 and not at all in spring 2016. Its congener White-backed Woodpecker is common in the area.

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker: Scarce species noted by us once at Xidaquan in summer 2015. Missed in spring 2016.

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker: Rufous-bellied Woodpecker ssp. subrufinus is reported in eastern Heilongjiang, as is Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. Neither has been found by us around Boli.

Black-naped Oriole: A species yet to be noted by us in Boli.

Azure Tit: This unmistakable tit has been reported around Lake Khanka, on the Sino-Russian border east of Boli County. We have yet to see the species in Boli.

Marsh Tit: Race brevirostris noted by us on 13 days in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

Manchurian Bush Warbler, Baikal Bush Warbler, Chinese Bush Warbler: Yet to be noted by us in Boli.

Asian Stubtail: Noted on four days in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

Manchurian Reed Warbler: We made a point to look for this bird, paying careful attention to the Black-browed Reed Warbler we were finding. No luck.

Yellow-browed Warbler: In spring 2016 we were expecting big counts of this species, having noted it on nine days in summer 2015. We noted it not once in spring 2016. It most likely does not breed in the area and was passing through the region in August and September 2015.

Arctic Warbler: Also apparently a passage migrant at Xidaquan. In spring 2016 we had but one record of a singing individual at Xidaquan. In summer 2015 we had two records.

Two-barred Warbler: Yet another apparent passage migrant. Noted on four days in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

Red-flanked Bluetail: Surprise! We have yet to record this species in Boli County.

Eurasian Treecreeper: Noted by us four times in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.
The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.

List of Place Names

Boli: name that may refer to either Boli County or Boli Town.

Boli County (Bólì Xiàn [勃利县]): jurisdiction in Qitaihe Prefecture, SE Heilongjiang. Area: 3,962 sq. km. Pop.: 370,000.

Boli Town (Bólì Zhèn [勃利镇]): urbanized area in & administrative center of Boli County. 45.752960, 130.579479.

Changbai Mountains (Chángbái Shān [长白山]): range running from SE Heilongjiang S to North Korea. Laoye Mountains near Boli are part of Changbai Mountains.

Dawucun (Dàwǔcūn [大五村]): village in Boli County, Qitaihe Prefecture, Heilongjiang, 3 km from Boli Town. Birthplace of Elaine Du. 45.732679, 130.589612.

Heilongjiang (Hēilóngjiāng [黑龙江]): province NE China. Area: 454,800 sq. km. Area (comparative): slightly larger than Sweden & California. Pop.: 38.3 million.

Hongwei Linchang (Hóngwěi Línchǎng [宏伟林场]): area in Boli County S of Boli Town. Important birding spot at 45.638703, 130.547478.

Jiamusi (Jiāmùsī Shì [佳木斯市]): prefecture-level city E Heilongjiang.

Jiulong Reservoir (Jiǔlóng Shuǐkù [九龙水库]): reservoir in Boli County S of Boli Town. 45.706874, 130.517068.

Laoye Mountains (Lǎoye Lǐng [老爷岭]): offshoot of Changbai Mountains. Xidaquan National Forest is in the Laoye Mountains.

Qitaihe (Qītáihé Shì [七台河市]): prefecture E Heilongjiang of which Boli County is a part. Area: 6,221 sq. km. Pop.: 920,000.

Xidaquan National Forest (Xīdàquān Guójiā Sēnlín Gōngyuán [西大圈国家森林公园]): forest reserve in Boli County, Heilongjiang. 45.727751, 130.317316.

Main gate to Xidaquan National Forest, 2 June 2016.
Main gate to Xidaquan National Forest, 2 June 2016.

Selected Bibliography

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Co-first reference (along with Collins Bird Guide) in Northeast China.

Brelsford, Craig. A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China. (Work in progress; notes and drafts in Craig’s laptop. Please help us create this field guide by making a donation.)

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions.

Kennerley, Peter & David Pearson. Reed and Bush Warblers. Christopher Helm.

Lynx Edicions. The Internet Bird Collection. ibc.lynxeds.com

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

Oriental Bird Club. Oriental Bird Images. orientalbirdimages.org.

Smith, Andrew T. & Yan Xie, eds. Mammals of China. Princeton University Press.

Mullarney, Killian, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterström, Peter Grant. Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins. Co-first reference (along with Birds of East Asia) in Northeast China.

Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World. xeno-canto.org. Craig has downloaded hundreds of calls from this Web site.

Equipment

Elaine's niece Lisa Li (R) tries out Elaine's Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 binoculars while her aunt shows her a quartet of Little Ringed Plover in the fields behind Dawucun, 31 May 2016.
Elaine’s niece Lisa Li (R) tries out Elaine’s Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 binoculars while her aunt shows her a quartet of Little Ringed Plover in the fields behind Dawucun, 31 May 2016.

Cameras: Nikon D3S; for landscapes, Apple iPad, Apple iPhone 4S, and Apple iPhone 6
Lens: Nikon VR 600mm F/4G
Sound recorder: Olympus DM-650
Binoculars: Swarovski EL 8 x 32 (Craig), Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 (Elaine)
Spotting scope: Swarovski ATX-95

Featured image: Drake Mandarin Duck, found in a small pool deep in the forest at Xidaquan National Forest on 1 June 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.

Asian Dowitcher Leads Shanghai Spring-Mig Birding Pageant!

On 21-24 April 2016, teaming up with Jan-Erik Nilsén and Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du and I noted 110 species. Our birding ranged from the inner city of Shanghai (Zhongshan Park, Century Park) to the coast at Nanhui. The highlight of this spring-mig bird pageant was Asian Dowitcher at Nanhui. The dowitcher was in a pool that also held 11 Chinese Egret. Nanhui also gave us endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Far Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot and near-threatened Red Knot and Curlew Sandpiper. Among the other uncommon to scarce passage migrants were 4 Greater Sand Plover, 2 Pechora Pipit, 4 Brown-headed Thrush, 2 Siberian Blue Robin, 3 Siberian Rubythroat, and Citrine Wagtail. Joining them were 5 Terek Sandpiper, 3 Temminck’s Stint, 12 Long-toed Stint, 3 Eurasian Wryneck, 2 Eastern Crowned Warbler, 4 Japanese Thrush, 2 Eyebrowed Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher, 2 Blue-and-white Flycatcher, macronyx Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and 3 Tristram’s Bunting. We had impressive numbers (ca. 3180) of Barn Swallow, and picking through the clouds of hirundines we coaxed out 3 Pale/Sand Martin and 4 Red-rumped Swallow. Near-threatened Marsh Grassbird were singing in the reed bed at 30.866006, 121.939614. Near the grassbirds were Brown Crake, Reed Parrotbill, and Oriental Reed Warbler. A quick trip to Zhongshan Park on Thursday netted Narcissus Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and at Century Park on Friday we had Indian Cuckoo.

Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. The prominent wing bars, distinct stripes on mantle, and contrasting buffish breast and whitish belly are readily visible in my photos.
Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. The prominent wing bars, distinct stripes on mantle, and contrasting buffish breast and whitish belly are readily visible in my photos.

A Swede based in Beijing, Jan-Erik is an experienced birder and a friend. I have partnered with Jan-Erik in Qinghai (2014) and in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia (2015). Last year he introduced me to the Beijing-area birding hot spots.

Among Jan-Erik’s many strengths is his ear. When the rain finally let up on Sunday, Jan-Erik and I were walking between microforests on the Nanhui sea wall. “Pechora Pipit!” Jan-Erik cried. On a windy day, Jan-Erik’s sensitive ear had detected the hard, clicking call of a distant Pechora. I missed this one, but my adrenaline was running, and I ran back to our rented Buick, driven by Elaine. I put together my 600 mm lens and Nikon D3S, which had lain dormant throughout the rainy Saturday and Sunday morning. “Record-shot time!” I said to my wife. Almost as soon as I had set up my camera, I found another Pechora atop a tree. I had not seen Pechora Pipit since 2010. Jan-Erik’s strong hearing skills made the rare view possible.

Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. This is quite a different bird from Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Note the dagger-like orange bill and blue-grey lores.
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. This is quite a different bird from Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Note the dagger-like orange bill and blue-grey lores.

The teamwork continued later that day. At the dowitcher spot (30.877779, 121.955465), Elaine, using the spotting scope and scanning the pond below us, cried out, “Dowitcher! Maybe Asian!” Elaine had never seen Asian Dowitcher, but Michael Grunwell’s fascination with this bird had prepared Elaine for the possibility of encountering the species. Jan-Erik and I ran back, and I enjoyed my first-ever views of the near-threatened species. Great spot, Elaine!

My two greatest birding mentors, Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén (R), photographed with me by my greatest birding partner, Elaine Du. Dishui Lake Metro Station, Shanghai, 23 April 2016.
My two greatest birding mentors, Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén (R), photographed with me by my greatest birding partner, Elaine Du. Dishui Lake Metro Station, Shanghai, 23 April 2016.

Jan-Erik arrived late Thursday night. On Friday we did light birding at Century, noting 29 species. On Saturday and Sunday I had the pleasure of introducing Jan-Erik to Nanhui. We noted 99 species over the weekend, and we had the added pleasure of having Michael Grunwell join us Saturday. Despite the rain, I have rarely been happier birding than I was Saturday, for on that day the two birders who have taught me the most were finally in the same car together. Michael is a British birder who has been living in Shanghai since last year.

The bad weather kept us off Lesser Yangshan Island and dashed our hopes of visiting Hengsha Island. As darkness fell Saturday, we drove Michael to the Dishui Lake Metro Station. Jan-Erik, Elaine, and I spent the night at the Holiday Inn at Nanhui. This proved to be a good move, for staying at Nanhui saved me a 90-km drive back to the city after an exhausting day and put us in position for an early start Sunday. A sea-view room cost 500 yuan, money we considered well-invested.

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 21 April 2016 (13 species)

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 2 May 2014. Elaine and I noted our seasonal-first Yellow-rumped at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai, on 21 April 2016. An East Asian favorite, Ficedula zanthopygia breeds in China from Heilongjiang south to Jiangsu. The male is beautiful.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 2 May 2014. Elaine and I noted our seasonal-first Yellow-rumped at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai, on 21 April 2016. An East Asian favorite, Ficedula zanthopygia breeds in China from Heilongjiang south to Jiangsu. The male is beautiful.

Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Mostly cloudy; low 16° C, high 24° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NW 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 137 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:18, sunset 18:27. THU 21 APR 2016 15:35-17:25. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 8
Japanese Tit Parus minor 7 (2 fledglings)
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 5
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 9 (3 singing)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 7
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 17 (1 fledgling)
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 1 singing
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia 1
Narcissus Flycatcher F. narcissina 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 3

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 22 April 2016 (29 species)

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Tristram's Bunting, Lesser Yangshan Island, 25 April 2013. Emberiza tristrami breeds in forests, and its preference for that sort of habitat is evident even on migration in places such as Shanghai. The species can be numerous in April in heavily forested urban parks such as Century, where we noted 11 individuals on 22 April 2016.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Tristram’s Bunting, Lesser Yangshan Island, 25 April 2013. Emberiza tristrami breeds in forests, and its preference for that sort of habitat is evident even on migration in places such as Shanghai. The species can be numerous in April in heavily forested urban parks such as Century, where we noted 11 individuals on 22 April 2016.

Birds noted at Century Park (Shìjì Gōngyuán [世纪公园]; 31.219361, 121.551900), Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Cloudy; low 13° C, high 25° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind SSW 11 km/h. Sunrise 05:17, sunset 18:28. FRI 22 APR 2016 15:30-18:20. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 4
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 4
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 35
Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus 1 singing
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 30
Japanese Tit Parus minor 7 (2 fledglings)
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 5
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 7
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 5
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 6
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 24 (3 fledglings)
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 1
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 6
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 11
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 5

Have you viewed our recently created page, Birds Recorded at Century Park? There you can view all the species of bird recorded at urban Shanghai’s most birdable park.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 23 April 2016 (76 species)

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Temminck's Stint, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 19 Sept. 2012. Calidris temminckii is a loner and prefers freshwater habitats. It is a passage migrant in the Shanghai region, and there are winter records. We noted 3 on 23 April 2016 at Nanhui, Shanghai.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Temminck’s Stint, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 19 Sept. 2012. Calidris temminckii is a loner and prefers freshwater habitats. It is a passage migrant in the Shanghai region, and there are winter records. We noted 3 on 23 April 2016 at Nanhui, Shanghai.

Birds noted 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 along Shijitang Road from 31.000204, 121.938145 S to 30.851114, 121.848527. Rainy & windy. Low 14° C, high 16° C. Wind E 26 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 107 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:16, sunset 18:29. SAT 23 APR 2016 06:00-17:15. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 10
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 12
Garganey A. querquedula 2 (pair)
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 9
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 6
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 10
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 3
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 12
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Great Egret A. alba 1
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 2
Little Egret E. garzetta 14
Brown Crake Amaurornis akool 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 6
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 6
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 15
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 15
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 11
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 4
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 3
Common Snipe G. gallinago 12
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 7
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 8
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 20
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 38
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 3
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 2
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 2
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 50
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 3
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 8
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 10
Dunlin C. alpina 7
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 3
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 17
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 12
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 6
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 10
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 12
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 180
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 1
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Marsh Grassbird Locustella pryeri 2 singing
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 5
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 50
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 40
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 1
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 180 (120 tschutschensis, 20 taivana)
Citrine Wagtail M. citreola 1
White Wagtail M. alba 9 (6 leucopsis, 2 ocularis, 1 lugens)
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 3
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 15
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 2
Little Bunting E. pusilla 8
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 30
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 6

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 24 April 2016 (79 species)

Siberian Rubythroat, Nanhui, 24 April 2016.
Siberian Rubythroat, Nanhui, 24 April 2016.

Birds noted 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 along Shijitang Road from 31.000204, 121.938145 S to 30.851114, 121.848527. Rainy in morning, then cloudy. Low 13° C, high 17° C. Wind ENE 21 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 139 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:15, sunset 18:29. SUN 24 APR 2016 05:45-13:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 17
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 11
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 4
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 5
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Lesser/Greater Sand Plover C. mongolous/leschenaultii 5
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 1
Common Snipe G. gallinago 15
Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 10
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 2
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 4
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 30
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 15
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 8
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 1
Red Knot C. canutus 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 60
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 4
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 5
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 1
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 14
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 3
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 5
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 3000
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 3
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 20 singing
Marsh Grassbird Locustella pryeri 3 singing
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 50
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 10
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 8
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 10
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 4
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 3
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 2
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 3
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 100 (60 tschutschensis, 10 taivana, 1 macronyx)
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 2
White Wagtail M. alba 5 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5
Pechora Pipit A. gustavi 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 3
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata 3
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 40
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2

Brown-headed Thrush with (in top L panel) Eyebrowed Thrush and Black-faced Bunting. Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016.
Brown-headed Thrush with (in top L panel) Eyebrowed Thrush and Black-faced Bunting. Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016.

Featured image: Asian Dowitcher, Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016. Listed as near-threatened by the IUCN, Limnodromus semipalmatus breeds in Siberia, Mongolia, and Heilongjiang and occurs on passage in the Shanghai area.