Marsh Tit, First for Shanghai

Happy New Year 2018 to you from shanghaibirding.com!

On this New Year’s Day, I bring you glad tidings: a historic first Shanghai record of Marsh Tit Poecile palustris!

The sighting occurred on Christmas Eve at Century Park in Pudong. A pair was foraging in trees and bushes at the edge of a wooded area. (The exact point is by the boardwalk on the western side of the park at 31.215832, 121.541303.) The tits did not appear sluggish or overly tame, as might have been the case had they escaped from a cage.

I originally misidentified the Century Park tits as Willow Tit Poecile montanus stoetzneri. I was thrown off by the large black patch on the chin and throat of the birds, which I took to be strongly suggestive of Willow. In field guides pre-dating the research of Richard K. Broughton, the bibs of Marsh and Willow Tits, in particular their size and shape, are characterized as being important separators of the two species, which are notoriously hard to tell apart.

After my triumphant announcement to the Shanghai Birding WeChat group, member Paul Holt responded, disagreeing with my diagnosis of Willow Tit and cautioning me on an over-reliance on bib, which, Holt wrote, “[doesn’t] hold much water” as a criterion for Marsh-Willow ID. The Century tit, Holt said, “looks like a classic Marsh Tit” (Holt, in litt., 2017). Intrigued, I searched the Web for authorities backing up Holt’s assertions, and I came across the two studies by Broughton.

Broughton’s papers shake the foundations of Marsh-Willow research. Of the several challenges Broughton makes to the received wisdom about Marsh-Willow ID, bib is among the most salient. Books renowned and much relied on, such as the Collins Bird Guide (2009), admit only of “some overlap” in the size and shape of the bibs. Broughton finds “substantial overlap.” Harrap and Quinn state unequivocally that compared to Willow Tit, Marsh has “a smaller and neater black bib” (1995). Broughton says that bib is “variable within both species,” prone to “high subjectivity” on the part of the observer, and greatly dependent on the sex, social rank, and age of the bird. “The bib,” Broughton states flatly, “is not a particularly useful identification feature” (2009).

Marsh Tit Poecile palustris brevirostris, Xidaquan Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 24 Aug. 2015. (Craig Brelsford)
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris brevirostris showing classic whitish bill mark. In good light, as here, the bill mark is noticeable even at mid-range. Xidaquan, Heilongjiang, 24 Aug. 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

What, then, is a useful identification feature? In the British and European birds Broughton and his co-authors studied, the most reliable criterion separating non-singing and non-calling Marsh and Willow was a special mark on the bill. The authors found that 98.7% of Marsh Tit and 94.2% of Willow Tit could be identified to species according to the presence (Marsh) or absence (Willow) of a whitish spot on the proximal area of the upper mandible (Broughton et al. 2008).

Here in China, how applicable are Broughton’s findings on the whitish mark? To the best of my knowledge, the applicability of the bill criterion on the East Asian subspecies of Marsh and Willow has not been formally tested. It presumably is highly applicable, and the photos here of Marsh and Willow from the Eastern Palearctic comport with Broughton’s findings from the Western Palearctic.

Marsh Tit (top) and Willow Tit (bottom). (Craig Brelsford)
Comparison of whitish marks on proximal area of upper mandible of Marsh Tit Poecile palustris (top) and Willow Tit Poecile montanus (bottom).  (Craig Brelsford/Steven Lin)

Examine the four-panel photo above. At top left is Marsh Tit Poecile palustris brevirostris, photographed at Xidaquan, Heilongjiang on 17 Aug. 2015. The whitish bill mark is clearly visible, as it is in Steven Lin’s photo top right of the Century Park Marsh Tit. In the photo bottom left of Willow Tit Poecile montanus baicalensis, taken in Dawucun, Heilongjiang on 23 Jan. 2015, abrasions and reflected light create asymmetrical whitish marks that only an inexperienced observer would take to be the bill mark of a Marsh Tit. In the photo bottom right of “Songar” Tit Poecile montanus affinis, taken in northern Qinghai on 1 Aug. 2016, the bill is unmarked; it is a classic Willow Tit bill.

Broughton’s papers explore other criteria for Marsh-Willow ID, among them the song, “chick-a-dee” call, and juvenile begging call, which have long been known to be distinctive and which Broughton rates as even better indicators of species than bill mark. Broughton also discusses the contrast between the cheek and neck sides in the two species, which like bill mark Broughton calls a highly reliable feature. Both papers are required reading for anyone wanting to get a handle on Marsh-Willow ID, even those of us here on the eastern end of the Palearctic. Indeed, a study using the methods of Broughton on the East Asian forms of Marsh Tit and Willow Tit would be a welcome complement to Broughton’s work and could yield exciting results.

ADDENDUM

On 22 Jan. 2018 at Century Park, local birder Komatsu Yasuhiko found Marsh Tit. Hiko got these photos.

Marsh Tit, Century Park, Shanghai, 22 Jan. 2018. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
On 22 Jan. 2018 at Shanghai’s Century Park, local birder Hiko found Marsh Tit. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Marsh Tit, Century Park, Shanghai, 22 Jan. 2018. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Conspicuous in Hiko’s photo is the whitish mark on the proximal area of the upper mandible, a very strong indicator of Marsh Tit. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

REFERENCES

Bengtsson, Daniel, Brelsford, Craig, and Du, Elaine. Birds Recorded at Century Park (a page on shanghaibirding.com). Available at http://www.shanghaibirding.com/sites/urban-shanghai/century-bird-records/ (accessed 1 Jan. 2018). Marsh Tit becomes the 142nd species recorded at Century Park, the premier park for urban birding in Shanghai.

Broughton, Richard K. 2008. Separation of Willow Tit and Marsh Tit in Britain: a review. British Birds 102 (November 2009), pp. 604–616. Available at https://britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Willow-Marsh-Tits.pdf (accessed 1 Jan. 2018).

Broughton, Richard K., Hinsley, Shelley A., & Bellamy, Paul E. (2008) Separation of Marsh Tit Poecile palustris from Willow Tit Poecile montana using a bill criterion. Ringing & Migration, 24:2, pp. 101-103. Available at https://doi.org/10.1080/03078698.2008.9674382 (accessed 1 Jan. 2018).

Harrap, Simon & Quinn, David. Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, 1995. Willow Tit, p. 238.

Holt, Paul. Message to Craig Brelsford through Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group, 24 Dec. 2017. To join Shanghai Birding, on WeChat send a friend request to Craig Brelsford (WeChat ID: craigbrelsford). Please say that you wish to join Shanghai Birding.

Svensson, Lars, Mullarney, Killian, & Zetterström, Dan. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 2009.

Featured image: Marsh Tit Poecile palustris, historic first sighting in Shanghai. Century Park, Shanghai, Christmas Eve 2017. (Steven Lin)

Crested Goshawk at Century Park

​At Pudong’s Century Park on Sun. 26 Nov. 2017, I recorded Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus. It was my first record at Century of Crested Goshawk, a species whose presence in urban Shanghai is growing ever more noticeable.

Li Qiu (李秋), her husband Qiao Ying (乔颖), Paul Hyde, and I were standing in Woodcock Forest (31.213235, 121.551704), a heavily wooded part of Century Park. We were watching Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major, itself rare in urban Shanghai.

We saw an Accipiter flying over the treetops. We ran out of the forest into a grassy area and saw the goshawk soaring 100 m above the park. Qiu got the photo above left.

The goshawk seemed not to be passing through Century but to be using the park; the combination of low flight over the treetops followed by soaring flight over the park gave me an impression of a raptor that knows the area.

Why is Sunday’s goshawk Crested Goshawk?

1. Wings short and broad and “pinched” at base–the narrow wing base is obvious in Qiu’s photo, as well as in my photo above right of a Crested Goshawk from Emeifeng, Fujian. Crested Goshawk is well-known for its narrow wing base and bulging secondaries. By contrast, regional sparrowhawks such as Besra Accipiter virgatus and Eurasian Sparrowhawk A. nisus have less-rounded wings.

Comparison of bulge of secondaries of regional Accipiter. Crested Goshawk A. trivirgatus shows a 'pinched' wing base and bulging secondaries. The wings of Chinese Sparrowhawk A. soloensis (top R) and Japanese Sparrowhawk A. gularis are much straighter, while the bulge in the wing of Eurasian Sparrowhawk A. nisus (bottom L) is less pronounced. (Craig Brelsford)
Comparison of bulge of secondaries of regional sparrowhawks. Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus (top L) shows a ‘pinched’ wing base and bulging secondaries. Much straighter are the wings of Chinese Sparrowhawk A. soloensis (top R) and Japanese Sparrowhawk A. gularis (bottom R). The secondaries of Eurasian Sparrowhawk A. nisus (bottom L) show more of a bulge than the previous two species but less than Crested Goshawk. (Craig Brelsford)

2. When I saw the raptor close, soaring over the treetops, the impression I got was not of a large, buzzard-sized Accipiter (as might have been the impression if the raptor had been Northern Goshawk A. gentilis). Instead, I got the impression of a smaller raptor. An impression of a large, Buteo-sized raptor would weigh against a diagnosis of Crested Goshawk, but an impression of a smaller raptor weighs in favor of an Accipiter the size of Crested Goshawk.

3. Besra is less likely to be seen soaring than is Crested Goshawk.

4. As I note in my recent post, “Crested Goshawk Invades Shanghai,” Crested Goshawk is known to occur in urban Shanghai, including Century Park. Knowledge that Crested Goshawk is in this city does not weigh against a diagnosis of the Accipiter Sunday as Crested Goshawk. Indeed, if my impression of a more or less resident Accipiter is correct, then it lends support to the idea.

P.S. In addition to the goshawk, our 38 species Sunday included a first-ever Century Park record of Eurasian Coot Fulica atra. View Sunday’s list here, and for a list of all 139 species recorded at the premier birding park in urban Shanghai, see our page Birds Recorded at Century Park.

Featured image: Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus. Left: Century Park, Shanghai, 26 Nov. 2017 (Li Qiu). Right: Emeifeng, Fujian, 30 April 2015 (Craig Brelsford).

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Century Park

​Century Park, Pudong, Thurs. 5 Oct. 2017, Komatsu Yasuhiko and Craig Brelsford, 39 species. Hiko and I blew past our target of 35 species and added three species to the shanghaibirding.com Century Park all-time bird list. The total now stands at 138 species. Hiko and I added five species to the eBird Century Park all-time list, bringing the total to 117.

The new entries on the shanghaibirding.com list are Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Dusky Warbler, and White-throated Rock Thrush. The new entries on the eBird list are those three plus Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and Taiga Flycatcher.

White-throated Rock Thrush, a new record for Pudong's Century Park. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
White-throated Rock Thrush, a new record for Pudong’s Century Park. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

See our day list here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39560484

“Century Park is getting better,” Hiko said. My young friend is right. Century Park is an island of stability amid the sea of change (mainly degradation) that is the natural environment of Shanghai. Ten years ago this month, when Hiko was a tyke of 6, I made my first visit to urban Shanghai’s best birding area. Little has changed. The biggest difference between October 2007 and October 2017 is, the trees are taller. The wooded areas at Century have an ever-stronger woodsy feel.

Notes:

— Century yielded yet another regional record of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. Evidence is growing that in the Shanghai area this passage migrant has been neglected and is more common than previously thought. I recently wrote a series of posts, the latest being this one, on distinguishing Sakhalin Leaf Warbler from its sister species Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Here is the recording I made of the calling Sakhalin on Thurs. 5 Oct. Apart from a DNA assay, call as well as song is the only reliable way to separate Sakhalin Leaf Warbler from Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. At 4.9 kHz, the “tink” recorded below is a full kilohertz deeper than the call of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealoides, Century Park (31.219361, 121.551900), Pudong, 5 Oct. 2017 (00:20; 3.9 MB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

Eurasian Woodcock whizzed overhead on its way to Bird Island (31.217405, 121.554936). The woodcock was going to the one best place for it in the urban park. Bird Island, Century’s sanctuary-within-a-sanctuary, is a bird-friendly, cat-free parcel of woodland cut off from the rest of the park by a moat.

Great Spotted Woodpecker used to be found mainly on Bird Island. On Thursday we found 2 in other sectors of the park. With the steadily improving woodland in the park, expect Great Spotted Woodpecker to be seen in more and more areas. Century Park is one of the few areas in urban Shanghai where woodpeckers are commonly found.

Arctic Warbler 9 calling. No evidence Thursday of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler.

Rufous-tailed Robin in undergrowth, ID’d quickly and accurately by Hiko.

Rufous-tailed Robin made a rare foray out of the undergrowth to look at us. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Rufous-tailed Robin made a rare foray out of the undergrowth to look at us. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Red-flanked Bluetail, Grey-backed Thrush: common winter visitors to Shanghai and seasonal firsts for Hiko and me.

White’s Thrush: a healthy 11 taking advantage of the high-quality woodland in the park.

The shanghaibirding.com Century Park all-time list was started in 2006 by former Shanghai resident and shanghaibirding.com contributor Daniel Bengtsson. I have managed the list since 2015. The list is searchable in English, Latin, and Chinese. As an index of the birds of urban Shanghai, the list is unmatched. Again, the link: http://www.shanghaibirding.com/sites/urban-shanghai/century-bird-records/

Featured image: Komatsu Yasuhiko shows off his image of adult-male Mugimaki Flycatcher at Century Park, Shanghai, 5 Oct. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

GUEST POST: Home to Shanghai (Plus a Jaunt to Fujian)

Editor’s note: Daniel Bengtsson (the tall guy next to me) is a former Shanghai resident, a frequent visitor to Earth’s Greatest City, and an avid birder. Daniel left his mark on Shanghai birding with his Century Park All-time Bird List, which he began compiling in 2008. The list stands at 135 species, almost all of them recorded first by Daniel, and is the best record ever made of the birds of a major Shanghai park.

In this guest post, Daniel’s first for shanghaibirding.com, Daniel discusses the birding side of his latest trip to China. He introduces us to two important locations in Fujian: Ziyun Cun, a forest site good for Cabot’s Tragopan, and the Minjiang estuary, breeding area of the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern. With Daniel’s piece, plus my work on Emeifeng, Shanghai birders have a growing list of resources with which to plan their own Fujian trip. — Craig Brelsford

Home to Shanghai (Plus a Jaunt to Fujian)
© 2017 by Daniel Bengtsson
for shanghaibirding.com

As I spent more than two years in Shanghai over a five-year period (2006-2010), and since Shanghai is the birthplace of my wife and daughter, this huge city will always be my second home–a bit unlikely, perhaps, considering I was raised in the Swedish countryside.

My daughter is now 8, which means that we are limited to Christmas and summer breaks to visit the Shanghainese side of our family. We did our latest summer trip this past June and July.

Any time I’m in Shanghai, I visit Century Park, my “home spot” which I birded more than 50 times back in 2008. This past summer, I birded the park twice, on 23 and 29 June.

In contrast to other parts of Shanghai, Century Park has undergone little change over the years. This time, however, I noticed that Oriental Magpie-Robin had moved in. Other records of interest were singing Indian Cuckoo (2 birds seen), Eurasian Hoopoe with 2 fledged chicks, and Asian Brown Flycatcher (difficult to know whether it had already been to the breeding grounds and returned south or whether it had been delayed and was on its way north).

To add more birding flavor to the visit, I asked my wife and daughter to do a family-plus-birding trip with me to Fujian. On 5 July we flew from Pudong Airport to Sanming in western Fujian. We were picked up and driven to Ziyun Cun (紫云村, 26.359541, 117.492287). Like Emeifeng 80 km to the west, Ziyun Cun, elev. 800 m, lies in hilly, thickly forested, sparsely populated country. The peaceful village of 1,000 inhabitants was a welcome contrast to hot and humid Shanghai.

We stayed in a small family hotel which offered nice rooms and fresh, self-produced food at a very reasonable price. Both driver and hotel were arranged by birder Xiao Yang (小杨, +86 158-5982-8858). His parents run the hotel.

Cabot's Tragopan (Daniel Bengtsson)
Cabot’s Tragopan often appears at specially constructed photographic blinds around Ziyun Cun. (Daniel Bengtsson)

Among birders and photographers, Ziyun Cun is well-known for the temple on one of the nearby hilltops, often providing both Cabot’s Tragopan and Elliot’s Pheasant. Although Elliot’s Pheasant did not show during the two days I spent in the area, I got fine views of the tragopan as well as of Silver Pheasant and Chinese Bamboo Partridge.

Bird activity was low, and it was obvious that it was long gone into the breeding season. Though birds were calling little, I did manage to hear White-necklaced Partridge, Chinese Barbet, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler. Bay Woodpecker and Rufous Woodpecker showed nicely.

Night birds were more active. By walking from the village to the temple (1.5 km) before dawn, I heard Collared Scops Owl, Oriental Scops Owl, Collared Owlet, Asian Barred Owlet, and Grey Nightjar.

For 50 RMB another driver took us to the temple by car. This was a good deal when bringing my wife and daughter, since they would not have been too happy walking the steep track from the paved road up to the temple. Alongside the temple track, a stairway leads down to a different side of the hill. This side has better forest, and most of the birds were here.

Silver Pheasant (Daniel Bengtsson)
Silver Pheasant Lophura nycthemera occurs in Southeast Asia and south China. The race at Ziyun Cun, fokiensis, is the northernmost subspecies. (Daniel Bengtsson)

On the last morning, Xiao Yang’s father took me to a private hide at the base of the hill, where the better forest begins. Apparently this is too low for Elliot’s Pheasant, but it is reliable for Silver Pheasant (and sometimes Cabot’s Tragopan). The deal was that I would pay 100 RMB if I got to photograph either the pheasant or tragopan. (I recommend paying anyway, since this is a good way of supporting ecotourism!) The same deal goes for the hide at the temple.

After two nights in Ziyun Cun, we were driven back to Sanming. We were dropped off at the train station and took the high-speed train to Fuzhou.

White-faced Plover. (Daniel Bengtsson)
White-faced Plover Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus, worn male, Minjiang estuary. Note the white lores and black spot just in front of the eye. Other characters, perhaps less obvious in this picture, and in comparison to other races of Kentish Plover, are larger size, blunter bill, more extensively white forehead, reduced black on crown, brighter and paler upperparts, reduced black lateral breast patches, rufous-brown of crown not extending onto nape, more white in wing bar, and paler and longer legs. Look for White-faced Plover in sandy areas and Kentish Plover along muddy shorelines. (Daniel Bengtsson)

Two mornings later, on 9 July, through the kind arrangements of the Fujian Bird Watching Society, I was picked up for a two-hour drive to the Minjiang estuary (26.023600, 119.653200). The Minjiang estuary is the only reliable site in mainland China for the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern, a species whose total world population probably does not exceed 50. The mudflats are also important as a stopover site for many waders, among them the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Another bird of interest to Shanghai-based birders is White-faced Plover Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus, a member of the Kentish Plover clade. At Fuzhou it is probably close to the northern border of its breeding range.

Foreign visitors need a permit to enter the protected area. The fee of 1,000 RMB may seem high, but if it can help protect the mudflats and the birds relying on them for survival, then it is money well-spent.

Chinese Crested Tern breeds on islets in the Taiwan Strait. For bathing and drinking, the terns use the brackish water close to the mouth of the Minjiang River. They don’t come every day, though, and not outside the breeding season, which lasts from April to September. In fact, the rest of our party had tried the previous day without success. On this day, we were lucky to have 1 adult Chinese Crested Tern join the rest of the roosting terns. It stayed for less than an hour before taking off again, swooping down to drink a couple of times then heading for the strait.

Terns of Minjiang estuary. (Daniel Bengtsson)
Roseate Tern in non-breeding plumage, Minjiang estuary. Compared to Common Tern, this bird is slightly larger, has a longer bill, darker legs, crisper black head pattern (similar to non-breeding Whiskered Tern), paler back, and whiter primaries. Also in this picture are Greater Crested Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, and Black-tailed Gull. (Daniel Bengtsson)

Other terns of interest were a couple of briefly visiting Bridled Tern as well as a few Roseate Tern (in both breeding and non-breeding plumages). Along with Common Tern, Little Tern, Greater Crested Tern, Whiskered Tern, and White-winged Tern, it all added up to eight species of terns in one day–a record for me.

The shoreline also provided 9 Black-faced Spoonbill and various species of wader, among them Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Pacific Golden Plover, and Greater Sand Plover. Some Sanderling and Red-necked Stint were in full breeding plumage, so I guess they had already made it up to the Arctic tundra and back.

Thinking of the amazing journeys these small creatures perform twice a year, and with the rarest of all species of tern in the bag, I strolled pleasantly through the muddy channels (helped by my waterproof sandals and zip-off trousers). The next morning we got on the high-speed train, and four and a half hours later we were back in Shanghai.

Featured image: Daniel Bengtsson and Craig Brelsford pose with their families. L-R: Daniel’s wife, Zhao Qing (赵清); Daniel Bengtsson; Daniel and Qing’s daughter, Linnea; Craig Brelsford; and Craig’s wife, Elaine Du. Shanghai, 2 July 2017.