GUEST POST: My Cape Nanhui

My Cape Nanhui
written & illustrated by Louis-Jean Germain
for shanghaibirding.com

Louis-Jean Germain
Louis-Jean Germain

My first visit to Pudong’s Cape Nanhui came on a cold, cloudy day in January 2016. I was disappointed. How could this place, deserted and dull, be the favorite of Shanghai birders? How did this place become one of the hottest birding spots in China?

I arrived by public transport and birded mostly around the Magic Parking Lot (30.884988, 121.968091), the wooded area and migrant trap at the tip of the Cape. Back then I didn’t know it was magic, and I found few birds. I knew little about China and even less about Asian birds, and I had been painting only occasionally.

Seasons have come and gone, I have visited the Cape numerous times, I have broadened my knowledge of ornithology, I have taken Chinese painting lessons and resumed my work with watercolors, and I have honed my ability to draw and paint birds. Now, my vision of Cape Nanhui hardly could differ more from that initial impression.

Now, I love Cape Nanhui. Now, I paint Cape Nanhui.

CHINESE PAINTING

Through my many visits over several seasons, my vision of Cape Nanhui evolved. I realized that the landscapes of Cape Nanhui are just the sort of landscapes that inspired those great masters, the Chinese painters of old.

I pictured those Chinese masters being deeply moved by the beauty of the vast reed beds, the reeds swaying  gently in the breeze. Using traditional Chinese tools (rice paper, paint brush, and black ink), I attempted to reproduce the motions, forms, and shadows of the reeds of Nanhui, the way the Chinese masters would have done.

I painted in winter, with Eurasian Teal alongside a fishing boat.

Teal and boat, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Ducks and boat, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)

I painted in autumn—two cranes exhausted from their migratory journey.

Cranes, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Cranes. (Louis-Jean Germain)

Again in summer I went, this time painting an egret among the reeds.

Reeds and egret, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Reeds and egret. (Louis-Jean Germain)

I went again and again, each time getting a new impression of Cape Nanhui.

MORE THAN JUST REEDS

Cape Nanhui is not only reed beds, but also mudflats, meadows, and eight tiny wooded areas that we Shanghai birders call the microforests. With my watercolors, I strove to paint each habitat of Cape Nanhui.

I painted a reed bed with the buildings of Lingang emerging in the mist above the reeds (as the mountains in the Chinese shanshui paintings); I painted the wind turbines rising like the mills of Cervantes in Don Quixote; I painted the mudflat and East China Sea crossed by the long Donghai Bridge; I painted a magical Japanese Paradise Flycatcher on the branch of a microforest tree.

Reeds, windmills, and distant skyscrapers. Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Reeds, windmills, and distant skyscrapers of the new city of Lingang, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
East China Sea, Donghai Bridge, and Lesser Yangshan Island from sea wall at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
East China Sea, Donghai Bridge, and Lesser Yangshan Island from sea wall at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
South Pond (30.873934, 121.953180), an important area of open water just inside the sea wall at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
South Pond (30.873934, 121.953180), an area of open water just inside the sea wall at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
A Cape Nanhui microforest. The eight tiny woodlands at Cape Nanhui are astonishingly effective migrant traps. Thanks to Craig Brelsford for his photo of this scene, which served as a visual aid for this painting. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083). The microforests, eight tiny woodlands at Cape Nanhui, are astonishingly effective migrant traps. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Magical Japanese Paradise Flycatcher in a microforest at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)

CAPE NANHUI, SUSTAINER OF LIFE

A nubby promontory between the mouth of the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay, Cape Nanhui is the most southeasterly point of the city-province of Shanghai. Silt from the Yangtze River gave birth to Cape Nanhui, and even today Nanhui lives at the pace of Asia’s greatest river.

The silt is rich, allowing plant life to proliferate, and attracting animals—insects, fish, amphibians, and of course birds. Some, such as Reed Parrotbill, are residents; some, such as Yellow Bittern, breed there; some, such as the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, winter there; and still others, among them the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank, pass through Nanhui while making their astonishing long-distance migration along the East Asian-Australasian Migratory Flyway.

Month after month, season after season, I went to Nanhui with my binoculars, telescope, paper, and black pen (a Mitsubishi uni-ball). I observed carefully, trying to understand and capture with my eyes the distinctive motions and details of each bird, and to reproduce my visual impressions with my pen. It is essential for me to draw birds in the field, to actually see them, as it is moments in the field with birds when one’s experience is the most intense and intimate.

Once home, following the field notes I made, and occasionally referring to great photographs my fellow Shanghai birders have taken, I carefully applied watercolors to my drawings.

During the cold winter at Cape Nanhui, we can spot winter visitors coming from northern China, Korea, Japan, and Siberia, among them Eurasian Teal, Black-faced Spoonbill, and Dusky Thrush. There are also resident species such as Black-crowned Night Heron.

Eurasian Teal, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus, aquarelle and black ink. Observed 7 Feb. 2018 at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, aquarelle and black ink. Observed 21 March 2017 at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax. (Louis-Jean Germain)

In spring, as temperatures rise and the days lengthen, and during autumn, as summer heat succumbs to the first cold winds, passage migrants can be observed at Cape Nanhui.

The waders arrive at Cape Nanhui after flights of thousands of kilometers on the Flyway. Birds such as Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Asian Dowitcher, and Far Eastern Curlew use Nanhui as a stopover. In autumn, these waders are en route to places as far south as Australia; in spring, they are headed north, many to Siberia.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, aquarelle and black ink. Observed 5 May 2017 at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis, aquarelle and black ink. Observed 31 Aug. 2017 at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis. (Louis-Jean Germain)

Another group of migrants are the passerines, at Nanhui found often in the microforests. Among them are colorful beauties such as Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Fairy Pitta, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, and Black-naped Oriole.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata, aquarelle and black ink. Observed 8 Sept. 2017 at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata, Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Pitta nympha, aquarelle and black ink. Observed 8 Sept. 2017 at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana, aquarelle and black ink. Observed 8 Sept. 2017 at Cape Nanhui. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis, juvenile, aquarelle and black ink. Observed by 12 Sept. 2017 at Cape Nanhui. Special thanks to Kai Pflug for the picture that served as a visual aid for the painting. (Louis-Jean Germain)
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis, juvenile. (Louis-Jean Germain)

CONCLUSION & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

It took me time to understand and appreciate Cape Nanhui. I look forward to continuing to explore this rich, unique, and beautiful place. May Cape Nanhui live forever, not only in the hearts of all Shanghainese, but also in the hearts of us foreign visitors.

Brelsford-mug
Brelsford

I dedicate this post to Craig Brelsford, founder and editor of this superlative website, shanghaibirding.com. In a series of posts in 2016, Craig called for the conservation of Cape Nanhui and thereby initiated a new era of awareness about the conservationist value of the Cape. Craig is the birder who more than any other person illuminated my path to Cape Nanhui.

Thanks to Craig, Kai Pflug, plusQ, and Chloe for sharing photos with me, many of which served as visual aids for the paintings displayed here.

Featured image: Microforests dot the shoreline of Cape Nanhui, the most southeasterly point of the city-province of Shanghai and one of the most important birding hotspots in China. (Louis-Jean Germain)

GUEST POST: Cape Nanhui Impressions 2017

Cape Nanhui Impressions 2017
by Kai Pflug
for shanghaibirding.com

Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug

I spent about 50 days at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui in 2017–sometimes with friends, but mostly on my own. Here are some of my favorite photos from Nanhui 2017.

Coming back from a trip to Australia, where I saw many interesting birds, I was afraid I was going to be disappointed by Nanhui. I was, however, far from disappointed by this Short-eared Owl (January).

Short-eared Owl, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, January 2017. (Kai Pflug)

In April, Craig and I took a trip to Nanhui. I think we more or less both took the same photo of this Common Kingfisher and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

Common Kingfisher and Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

This Blue-and-white Flycatcher has just had a good moment. This photographer has just had a good moment (April).

Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

A Common Sandpiper was inspecting his fishing nets (April).

Common Sandpiper, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

In May, I was already on my way back home from a somewhat disappointing day at Nanhui when Craig called. “Orange-headed Trush at the parking lot!” Of course, I turned back. It was worth it.

Orange-headed Thrush, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

I like the way this male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher seems to rest his long tail on the tree. Probably no females around to impress at this point, I guess (May).

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

Personally, I think of this photo as having the subtitle “The joys of parenthood.” Congratulations, Craig–with only one son, it should be a bit more relaxed than for this Long-tailed Shrike (May).

Long-tailed Shrike, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

Going to Nanhui in July is a somewhat lonely experience, as the heat deters most birders. Still, seeing a Eurasian Bittern sort of kneeling on a farm road can make it worth it.

Eurasian Bittern, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

This still fluffy young Yellow Bittern came so close to the place where I was hiding that eventually I could not capture it with my long lens any more. Hope it has learnt a bit more and survived (August).

Yellow Bittern, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

For a few months in 2017, a place with the nicely descriptive name “Trash Canal” was a good place to bird. This Striated Heron makes full use of the location’s characteristics (September).

Striated Heron, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

On the ground, the Eurasian Wryneck is very easy to overlook (September).

Eurasian Wryneck, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

While 2017 did not have a Fairy Pitta quite as compliant as the one at Nanhui in the autumn of 2016, there were still a few of them around. Always makes a birding day worthwhile (September).

Fairy Pitta, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

The autumn of 2017 was also very good for seeing owls such as this Oriental Scops Owl. Hard to ever get tired of owls (September).

Oriental Scops Owl, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

Another “seen together with Craig” bird, this Common Redpoll (October).

Common Redpoll, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

The idea of a sand bath always seemed a bit strange to me. But obviously it is not a strange idea to this Eurasian Hoopoe (November).

Eurasian Hoopoe, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

The Japanese Robin was maybe my most-anticipated bird of the year, as I had missed it the year before, despite waiting for it for quite some time. Of course, this is the kind of delayed gratification which makes a bird extra-special (November).

Japanese Robin, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 2017. (Kai Pflug)

Note: Some of these photos–and many more–will soon be published in the book Birds of Nanhui, Shanghai, ISBN 978-7-202-12615-8. I hope that it will be available at every bookstore in China. If not, you can get it from me directly. Contact me at kai.pflug@gmail.com.

Elaine, Tiny, and I Are Returning to America

Elaine, Tiny, and I are returning to the United States. Our final day in China will be 30 January 2018.

The main reason for moving to America is our infant son, Tiny. Tiny’s birth changed Elaine and me forever. We want the best for Tiny, and we believe that the best for Tiny is to grow up in America.

Why are we leaving so suddenly? Elaine and I would have preferred a long goodbye to China and then departure in the summer or fall of 2018. But last month, with only 33 days before my current visa ran out, I was strongly advised not to apply for another student visa. The Chinese government has made a sudden change in policy. Old Chinese-language students are no longer welcome. (I’m 50 years old.)

I accept the reasoning behind the policy regarding old students. What is questionable is the suddenness of the change. Elaine and I have been considerably inconvenienced.

I have been studying Chinese for two reasons. One was that I sincerely wanted to learn Mandarin, and my Chinese friends can attest to my constant improvement these past few years, all owing to my work at the Chinese-language program at the Shanghai University of Engineering Sciences.

The other reason for studying Chinese was, here in Shanghai Elaine has no hukou or right of abode, and so I am ineligible for a family visa as long as we remain in this great city. By studying Chinese, I have been able to remain in Shanghai.

As Tiny’s birth approached last year, Elaine and I discussed opening a business in Shanghai and securing a business visa for me. In the end, we decided against it. We were afraid–not that I would fail, but that I would succeed, and that our family would live in China for the rest of our lives.

Living the rest of my life in China, and especially in Shanghai, is certainly not a bad thing, but it never was my plan, even before Tiny was born. My plan always has been to return to the land of my birth, and that is what my family and I are doing now.

Elaine, Tiny, and I will return to Florida, where my parents live and where I attended the University of Florida and began my previous career in journalism. In Florida I will manage my translation agency, develop new conservationist projects, bird in America’s premier birding state, and raise Tiny. Never again, I hope, will I spend another Christmas far from my kin.

When that plane takes off later this month, I will be ending a journey abroad that has lasted 17 years–since a few months before 9-11. Seven of those years were spent in Europe. The past 10 years have been in China.

I arrived in China in 2007 fascinated by Light-vented Bulbul and with almost no birding experience. I leave China having noted 932 species in the People’s Republic, making me the highest-ranked eBirder in China. (Elaine, at 735 species, leaves China the highest-ranked woman eBirder in this country.)

I stayed so long in China in part because of a naive but heartfelt wish to write a field guide to the birds of China. That book proved impossible to do. The dream to write a field guide did come true in a way, though, through shanghaibirding.com, a project that has proved to be far more interesting than a field guide.

shanghaibirding.com has allowed me to develop my talents as photographer, writer, editor, and publisher. Through this Web site, I have lived out my birding motto, which is, “No hobby combines science, art, culture, and physical fitness better than the great hobby called Birding.” shanghaibirding.com has been a labor of love, and it now stands tall, a monument representing my accomplishments in China.

Even though I’m going home, shanghaibirding.com will very much continue to exist. I have much unpublished material that I will run in the coming months. I will continue to update the site later this year and beyond, and I will keep the site online for years to come, no matter whether I am updating it or not, and even after I have moved on to other projects.

Featured image: Our baby boy, Craig Eugene “Tiny” Brelsford II, with his parents, Craig Eugene Brelsford and Elaine Du. Shanghai, China, 25 Jan. 2018. Photo by Mǎruìshā Értóng Shèyǐng (玛瑞莎儿童摄影).

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)