Tibetan Lynx, Kanda Mountain, Qinghai

Tibetan Lynx (Lynx lynx isabellinus), 14 July 2016, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai, China. Sunset. With me at the wheel, my birding partners and I are driving up the Kanda Mountain road. I look left and see the lynx. It is motionless, looking at us. What luck! What a stunning sight!

The cat slinks away. The lynx gave us a few seconds of its time--and a memory to last forever.
The cat slinks away. The lynx gave us a few seconds of its time–and a memory to last forever.

“Wild cat!” I squeak to my partners, hitting the brakes and reaching for my camera. The lynx posed only a moment, and I got these images. Then it trotted away.

I waited nearly half a century to glimpse a lynx. My partners, wife Elaine Du and Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén, also had never seen a lynx. This is the Central Asian subspecies of Eurasian Lynx, also known as Himalayan Lynx and Turkestan Lynx. The elevation here is 4550 m (14,920 ft.).

Kanda Mountain is in Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, south-central Qinghai. Few places offer so enticing a combination of stunning scenery and good birding. I took this photo the morning after we saw the lynx near the place where the encounter occurred. Near this point one can find White Eared Pheasant, Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Babax, and Tibetan Bunting. We found Blue Sheep on the slopes above. Some of the local Tibetans told us that Snow Leopard still roam the area.
Kanda Mountain is in Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, south-central Qinghai. Few places offer so enticing a combination of stunning scenery and good birding. I took this photo the morning after we saw the lynx near the place where the encounter occurred. Near this point one can find White Eared Pheasant, Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Babax, and Tibetan Bunting. We found Blue Sheep on the slopes above. Some of the local Tibetans told us that Snow Leopard still roam the area.

My settings were off; I had just photographed a White-browed Tit-Warbler at close range in bright sunlight. Nikon D3S, 600 mm F/4, 1/20, F/10, ISO 640. “Shoot first, adjust later.” The lynx wasn’t going to wait. Photoshop can bail you out, to a point. I did manage to lower my shutter speed while shooting.

I’m writing you from Xining, capital of Qinghai. Elaine and I have been birding Qinghai since 26 June; we have just begun our fifth week in this province. Jan-Erik joined us for two weeks. On Sun. 24 July we dropped our partner off at Xining Airport. Along with goodbyes and thanks, the word “lynx” was on everyone’s lips.

Rare Breeding Record of Great Grey Owl in China

Last July, Elaine and I spent two weeks covering the vast Hulunbeier region of Inner Mongolia with Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. On our very first day (11 July 2015), we had a rare breeding record of Great Grey Owl. The story below comes from Elaine’s and my report, Inner Mongolia & Heilongjiang, 2015:

“As we were driving, we saw, far in the distance atop a billboard, a Great Grey Owl. As I stepped out of the car to admire it, a car came from the opposite direction and scared it away. We sighed, drove to the billboard, and parked. Would the owl come back? No. But something interesting occurred. From somewhere in the forest came begging calls, which I recorded (00:08; 1.1 MB):

“Those are clearly the begging calls of a juvenile Great Grey Owl. A breeding record! That is good news, though not wholly unexpected. Though ‘very rare in China’ (MacKinnon), Strix nebulosa lapponica has one stronghold in this country, and that is the Greater Khingan Range of Hulunbeier–a fact known to the birders who find the species here each year (usually in winter). What’s more, next to us was ideal Great Grey Owl habitat, being ‘dense boreal or coniferous forest … with openings,’ as Handbook of the Birds of the World describes it–again, no surprise, as the forest next to which we were standing is known to hold Great Grey Owl and other owls. Why, then, is a breeding record important? A breeding record matters because it confirms that at least some of the Great Grey Owl in the region are not simply wandering to Hulunbeier in the winter but are using the area year-round.”

Why am I posting this news now? For months, the recording of the begging calls lay in my computer, inert. Recently, reviewing the events of July 2015, I happened upon the recording. I remember Jan-Erik mentioning, way back in July, that we may have a breeding record of Strix nebulosa. But we got busy and never followed up, and so only now can we report this interesting record.

The report from which this post was derived, Inner Mongolia & Heilongjiang, 2015, is just one of many richly illustrated, useful reports on the shanghaibirding.com Explorations page. Plan your big China trip, learn about birding, or just sit back and enjoy our accounts of our birding expeditions in China. We are adding more and more of my sound recordings to the reports for a true multimedia experience. You’ll love Explorations!

Featured image: L-R: Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, and Jan-Erik Nilsén, on the S301 between Genhe and Labudalin, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, China, 19 July 2015.

Covering Shanghai Birding As It Has Never Been Covered Before

110,000 words. Months of research. Weeks in the field.

The result: Shanghai birding as it has never been covered before.

Our Reports page is up. It is an index to the book-length reports that Elaine Du and I have been writing about birding in Earth’s largest city.

The latest report, just completed, is called Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16. It covers the birding season from 11 Sept. 2015 through last week. This 40,000-word report lists the 268 bird species we noted and has heretofore unpublished photos and sound recordings. To our knowledge, never in a single document has birding in Shanghai been covered so thoroughly.

The latest report joins Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2015 (31,000 words, 243 species) and Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2014-15 (39,000 words, 216 species). The reports contain highlights, two versions of our species list, our itineraries, GPS coordinates of birding sites, recommended hotels, interesting anecdotes, lamentations on the state of the Chinese coast, and paeans to the amazing birds we witness.

Are you planning a trip to Shanghai and curious about the birds you could find at that time of year? The blog will give you current news, and Reports will show you what has been found in previous years. Do you live in Shanghai and want to know what birding is like throughout the year? Start your research on our blog; dig deeper with Reports.

In the coming weeks, Elaine and I will start the spring 2016 report.

Featured image: Craig Brelsford puts the finishing touches on Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16, one of three reports featured on the new Reports page on shanghaibirding.com. Photo by Elaine Du.

Cinereous Vulture in Shanghai

On 23-24 Jan. Elaine and I noted 68 species on one of the coldest weekends in Shanghai in recent memory. We birded Chongming, the great alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze River, and Nanhui. With strong northwesterly winds making temperatures feel as cold as -16°C, many birds lay low, but the strange weather probably played a role in two extraordinary records: 2 Cinereous Vulture (Chongming) and 3 Red-throated Loon (Nanhui). Other notable records were 2 Horned Grebe at Dishui Lake and a winter record of Wood Sandpiper at Nanhui as well as Eastern Yellow Wagtail (taivana) and Red-throated Thrush on Chongming. On Chongming and at Nanhui, we had Red-throated Pipit and Water Pipit mixed in with Buff-bellied Pipit.

Listed as near threatened by IUCN, Cinereous Vulture breeds across Eurasia, from Spain to China. In China, Aegypius monachus breeds mainly in the west as well as in Hulunbeier in northeastern Inner Mongolia. It is a “sporadic” (MacKinnon) or “rare” (Brazil) winter visitor to the southeast China coast. The largest Old World vulture, it has a wing span of about 260 cm (8.5 ft).

From a distance, the huge vultures looked like dogs. They usually stayed close together.
From a distance, the huge vultures looked like dogs. They usually stayed close together.

From a distance, the huge vultures looked like dogs as they rested on the ground. The pair was approachable. They usually stayed close together. Their plumage was shiny, and they appeared healthy. I doubt, however, that the eastern end of Chongming Island is a place that can support a pair of these huge birds for long. A Chinese photographer we met said the Chongming pair was probably the same pair that had been reported recently in Nantong. As of Saturday, the vultures had been on Chongming for a week to 10 days.

According to the IUCN, only about 50 Red-throated Loon winter along the Chinese coast.
According to the IUCN, only about 50 Red-throated Loon winter along the Chinese coast.

Red-throated Loon is also known as Red-throated Diver. Gavia stellata breeds in tundra bogs and taiga pools above 50° N latitude in Eurasia and North America. It winters along the coasts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Though the species faces no global threat, it is rare in China, with IUCN estimating that less than 50 spend the winter on the Chinese coast. Two of our three birds were feeding in one of the few unfrozen fish ponds inside the sea wall. A third was not feeding, and our partner Michael Grunwell feared it had been contaminated by oil.

Elaine and I birded Chongming alone. On Sunday at Nanhui, Michael joined us. We car-birded both days, driving a Skoda Scout rented from Avis.

Cinereous Vulture and Red-throated Loon became the 265th and 266th species of bird that Elaine and I have noted in the Shanghai region since 11 Sept. 2015.

Michael Grunwell searching for Horned Grebe at Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 24 Jan. 2016.
Michael Grunwell searching for Horned Grebe at Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 24 Jan. 2016.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 23 Jan. 2016 (51 species). Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Breezy and clear; low -8°C, high -1°C. Wind NW 32 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 70. Sunrise 06:51, sunset 17:22. SAT 23 JAN 2016 10:15-17:30. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 30
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 4
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 30
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 20
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 64
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 4
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 10
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 1
Little Egret E. garzetta 10
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 42
Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus 2
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 420
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta ca. 200
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 6
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 340
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 13
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 445
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 2
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Dunlin Calidris alpina 53
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris 9
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 4
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 4
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 15
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 6
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 1
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 6
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 600
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 1 taivana
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 5 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 13
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 65
Water Pipit A. spinoletta blakistoni 1
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 4

Mixed in with the Buff-bellied Pipit were Red-throated Pipit (above) and Water Pipit.
Mixed in with the Buff-bellied Pipit were Red-throated Pipit (above) and Water Pipit.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 24 Jan. 2016 (50 species). 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 at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) and along Shijitang Road from 31.000204, 121.938145 S to 30.851114, 121.848527. Blustery, cold, and sunny; low -8°C, high -6°C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NW 40 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 68. Sunrise 06:51, sunset 17:23. SUN 24 JAN 2016 07:15-16:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 60
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 20
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 2
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 45
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 32
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 20
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 80
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 55
Horned Grebe P. auritus 2
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 60
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 80
Great Egret A. alba 3
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 1
Little Egret E. garzetta 12
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo ca. 300
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 3
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 300
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 3
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 15
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 7
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 4
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina ca. 300
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 25
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 10
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 6
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 10
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/A. gulgula 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 6
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 7
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 10
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 200
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 12 (9 leucopsis, 3 lugens)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 6
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus ca. 200
Water Pipit A. spinoletta blakistoni 1
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 15
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1

Blustery winds made for tough birding. Here, Dishui Lake looks like a surging Arctic sea. Note Black-headed Gull flying in background.
Blustery winds made for tough birding. Here, Dishui Lake looks like a surging Arctic sea. Note Black-headed Gull flying in background.

Featured image: Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 23 Jan. 2016. Photographed using Nikon D3S and Nikkor VR 600mm F/4G lens mounted atop Manfrotto 055 carbon-fiber tripod and MVH502AH video head. F/9, 1/1250, ISO 2000.