The Cuckoos of Shanghai

Editor’s note: The image above shows three cuckoos of the Shanghai region. Clockwise from L: Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, and Large Hawk-Cuckoo. Join us as we study the rich array of cuckoos that passes through Earth’s greatest city.

It is spring, and one of the most thrilling moments of the bird migration in Shanghai is upon us–the passage of the Cuculinae, the Old World brood-parasitic cuckoos. Nowhere in the world is the diversity of this group greater than in eastern Eurasia, and here in Shanghai we get an enviable selection. Let us examine our Shanghai-area parasitic cuckoos and learn how to tell them apart.

We can divide the Shanghai-area brood-parasitic cuckoos into two categories: the mainly grey, slender-bodied Cuculus cuckoos and the non-Cuculus cuckoos. We will look at the non-Cuculus cuckoos first.

MASTER MIMICS: THE HAWK-CUCKOOS

Large Hawk-Cuckoo breeds near Shanghai. I found this fledgling 25 June 2009 at Nanjing Botanical Garden. It was being raised by Masked Laughingthrush Garrulax perspicillatus. (Craig Brelsford)
Large Hawk-Cuckoo breeds near Shanghai. On 25 June 2009 at Nanjing Botanical Garden, I found this fledgling in the nest of Masked Laughingthrush. (Craig Brelsford)

The non-Cuculus parasitic cuckoo that one is most likely to see in Shanghai is Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides. In the microforests at Cape Nanhui and once, to my surprise, in inner-city Zhongshan Park, I have heard the scream of “Brain fever!” The species breeds in nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

The hawk-cuckoos mimic sparrowhawks, an amazing feat of evolution. The resemblance serves, scientists say, not to increase stealth but to decrease it. Passerines, mistaking the intruder for a sparrowhawk, mob it, thereby giving away the location of their nest. After the tumult dies down, the hawk-cuckoo quietly swoops in and lays her egg.

Hawk-cuckoos have bills quite unlike those of the sparrowhawks that they mimic. L: Japanese Sparrowhawk. R: Large Hawk-Cuckoo. (Craig Brelsford, Kai Pflug)
Hawk-cuckoos have bills quite unlike those of the sparrowhawks that they otherwise mimic. L: Japanese Sparrowhawk (Craig Brelsford). R: Large Hawk-Cuckoo (Kai Pflug).

When it comes to the business of eating, however, the masquerade ends. The hooked bill of a sparrowhawk is a butcher’s tool, made for stripping the flesh of vertebrates from bone. The bill of a hawk-cuckoo is blunt, the utensil of a caterpillar-eater. Need a quick differentiator between “sprock” and hawk-cuckoo? Look to the bill.

Large Hawk-Cuckoo. L: Kai Pflug. Top and bottom R: Craig Brelsford.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo shows heavy barring and streaking on the throat, breast, and belly and varying degrees of rufous on the upper breast. L: Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, April 2017 (Kai Pflug). Top R: Longcanggou (29.572367, 102.866492), Sichuan, 27 May 2013 (Craig Brelsford). Bottom R: Old Erlang Road (29.849565, 102.262012), Sichuan, 3 June 2014 (Craig Brelsford).

Another separation we Shanghai birders need to make is that between Large Hawk-Cuckoo and Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus. If seen clearly, adult Large Hawk-Cuckoo and Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo are readily separable. Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo shows a belly washed rufous with faint streaks. Large Hawk-Cuckoo is heavily barred and streaked and has the rufous coloring confined to the upper breast.

L: Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo (Craig Brelsford). R: Large Hawk-Cuckoo (Kai Pflug)
Adult Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo (L) shows (1) white neck-sides and nape patch, (2) white scapular crescents, and (3) a rufous border to the black subterminal band on the tail. Large Hawk-Cuckoo (R) shows none of these. L: Original Magic Forest (32.567487, 120.996980), Yangkou (Rudong), Jiangsu, 15 Sept. 2012 (Craig Brelsford). R: Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, April 2017 (Kai Pflug).

Adult Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo shows a white spot on the nape, white neck-sides, and white scapular crescents. These features may also be visible in sub-adult Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo. Large Hawk-Cuckoo shows none of these in any plumage.

Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, 6 Oct. 2010. (Craig Brelsford)
Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus. The lack of rufous wash on the breast and belly suggests that this is a juvenile. The grey streaking of the adult plumage has appeared. Also visible are the white nape patch and scapular crescents as well as the rufous bands on the tail. Original Magic Forest (32.567487, 120.996980), Yangkou (Rudong), Jiangsu, 6 Oct. 2010. (Craig Brelsford)

Size differences may be appreciable. An average Large Hawk-Cuckoo is 15 percent larger than Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo. The tails differ, with the black subterminal band of Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo being bordered by a rufous line above and by the rufous tail-tip below. These rufous areas may be visible in immature cuckoos.

ASIAN KOEL AND CHESTNUT-WINGED CUCKOO

L: Asian Koel, female, 2 June 2016, Nanhui, Shanghai (Kai Pflug). R: Asian Koel, male, 17 May 2015, Dongtai, Jiangsu (Craig Brelsford).
Asian Koel shows pronounced sexual dimorphism. L: female, 2 June 2016, Nanhui (Kai Pflug). R: male, 17 May 2015, tree plantation (32.855576, 120.896557) in Dongtai, Jiangsu (Craig Brelsford). Eudynamys scolopaceus chinensis is the northernmost-breeding race among the koels, a small, mainly tropical group.

The other non-Cuculus parasitic cuckoos of the Shanghai region are Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus. Neither poses great ID challenges.

In China, Asian Koel ssp. chinensis breeds mainly south of the Yangtze River. With its familiar “koh-EL” song, Asian Koel is as easy to hear as it is hard to see in the dense forests where it is almost invariably found. It shows strong sexual dimorphism, with the male entirely glossy bluish-black and the female brown with whitish streaks, bars, and spots.

The parasitic cuckoos are secretive and most conspicuous by sound. A poor, fleeting glimpse is all that one is likely to get. That was the case in the Tianmu Mountains with this Chestnut-winged Cuckoo. (Craig Brelsford)
The parasitic cuckoos are secretive and most conspicuous by sound. In the Tianmu Mountains (30.344148, 119.440201) on 10 May 2015, this poor, fleeting glimpse was all I could manage of this Chestnut-winged Cuckoo. Its presence was more than made known, however, by its piercing whistle and harsh cries. (Craig Brelsford)

I have yet to see Chestnut-winged Cuckoo in Shanghai. It has been noted at Tongshan Forest Park (32.348637, 119.106915) in Yangzhou, Jiangsu, and I have noted it at Laoshan (32.071265, 118.560699) in Nanjing as well as in Zhejiang in the Tianmu Mountains (30.344148, 119.440201). With its glossy-black erectile crest, rufous wings, and long, black tail, the species is unmistakable–if you can manage to see it.

SHANGHAI-AREA CUCULUS CUCKOOS

Comparison of Indian Cuckoo and Common Cuckoo. Bottom-left cuckoo is Common; note yellow iris and compare to dark iris of Indian in bottom-right panel. Top two panels also Indian Cuckoo. All photos taken 17 May 2016 at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Comparison of yellow iris of Common Cuckoo (left-hand panels) with brown iris of Lesser Cuckoo (top right) and Indian Cuckoo (bottom right). Common and Indian: 17 May 2016, Nanhui. Lesser: 3 Oct. 2016, Yangkou (Rudong), Jiangsu. (Craig Brelsford)

Five Cuculus cuckoos have been claimed for Shanghai: Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus, Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus, Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus, and Common Cuckoo C. canorus.

The latter breeds in the area, parasitizing the nests of Oriental Reed Warbler in the reed beds at Cape Nanhui. Its famous song, perhaps the best-known bird sound in the world, is hard to miss at Nanhui in May.

Lesser Cuckoo and Indian Cuckoo breed in the region and are recorded on passage in Shanghai. Himalayan Cuckoo and Oriental Cuckoo may pass through Shanghai, but inasmuch as in size, plumage, and bare parts they are nearly identical to each other and very close to Common Cuckoo, and because they rarely (if ever) sing in our region, it is impossible to know how common they are.

Common Cuckoo (L) is the size of a sparrowhawk and is appreciably larger than the thrush-sized Lesser Cuckoo (R). Himalayan Cuckoo is on average smaller than Common, but the size difference is more difficult to appreciate. L: Nanhui. M: Foping, Shaanxi. R: Old Erlang Road, Sichuan. (Craig Brelsford)
Common Cuckoo (L) is the size of a sparrowhawk and is appreciably larger than the thrush-sized Lesser Cuckoo (R). Himalayan Cuckoo (C) is on average smaller than Common, but the size difference between the two is difficult to see. L: Nanhui, 17 May 2016. C: Foping National Nature Reserve (33.688538, 107.852950), Shaanxi, 19 May 2013. R: Old Erlang Road (29.849565, 102.262012), Sichuan, 3 June 2014. (Craig Brelsford)

Hear the song of any of these Cuculus, and you will have your ID; even the similar songs of Himalayan and Oriental are readily separable. If your cuckoo is silent, however, then you will need a closer look. Lesser Cuckoo and Indian Cuckoo have a brown iris, Common a bright-yellow iris. Lesser Cuckoo is the size of a thrush; Indian Cuckoo is a third larger; Common Cuckoo is larger still, approaching the size of a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

Juvenile <em>Cuculus</em> cuckoos are very difficult to ID to species. This is especially true in Shanghai, where almost all <em>Cuculus</em> cuckoos are passage migrants. If however you are on the breeding grounds and know a little about the host species, then you may be able to attempt an ID. In this photo, taken 22 July 2010 at Balangshan (<a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/30%C2%B057'39.5%22N+102%C2%B052'42.2%22E/@30.960977,102.7383223,11z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d30.960977!4d102.878398" target="_blank">30.960977, 102.878398</a>) in <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Sichuan,+China/@30.1028528,93.9726458,5z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x36e4e73368bdcdb3:0xde8f7ccf8f99feb9!8m2!3d30.651226!4d104.075881" target="_blank">Sichuan</a>, the juvenile cuckoo that the Rosy Pipit is feeding is most likely Common Cuckoo. The hugeness of the cuckoo is a clue, but the strongest indicator may be the foster parent. Common Cuckoo is known to parasitize the nests of pipits, while Himalayan Cuckoo and Lesser Cuckoo favor small warblers and Indian Cuckoo favors drongos and shrikes. (Craig Brelsford)
Juvenile Cuculus cuckoos are very difficult to ID. This is especially true in Shanghai, where almost all cuckoos are passage migrants. If however you are on the breeding grounds and know a little about the host species, then you may be able to attempt an ID. In this photo, taken 22 July 2010 at Balangshan (30.960977, 102.878398) in Sichuan, the juvenile cuckoo that the Rosy Pipit is feeding is most likely Common Cuckoo. The hugeness of the cuckoo is a clue, but the strongest indicator may be the foster parent. Whereas Himalayan Cuckoo and Lesser Cuckoo favor small warblers and Indian Cuckoo favors drongos and shrikes, Common Cuckoo is known to parasitize the nests of pipits. (Craig Brelsford)

In autumn, juveniles pass through Shanghai. They are silent and nearly impossible to identify to species. If one gets a close look at juvenile Lesser Cuckoo, however, one may appreciate its thrush-like size. If you happen to be on the breeding grounds, then you can attempt an ID according to the species of the foster parent.

NON-CUCULINAE CUCKOOS

Top L: Greater Coucal (Kai Pflug). R: Lesser Coucal (Kai Pflug). Bottom L, bottom C: Lesser Coucal (Craig Brelsford)
Top L: Greater Coucal, Nabang, Yunnan, March 2017 (Kai Pflug). R: Lesser Coucal (adult), Nanhui, May 2015 (Kai Pflug). Bottom L: Lesser Coucal (adult), Nanhui, 11 Sept. 2016 (Craig Brelsford). Bottom C: Lesser Coucal (juvenile), Nanhui, 19 Nov. 2016 (Craig Brelsford).

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis is the good guy of the Shanghai cuckoo world. Unlike all the other cuckoos recorded in Shanghai, but like most of the cuckoos in the world, the coucals are not brood parasites. Lesser Coucal, resident in Shanghai, builds a dome nest on the ground.

Lesser Coucal may be the only non-Cuculinae cuckoo in Shanghai, but it shares at least one trait with the brood parasites: It is very unobtrusive. Look for Lesser Coucal in areas of thick vegetation near water, such as the strips of reed bed along the canals at Cape Nanhui. If you find one, count yourself lucky.

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis occurs south of our region. It is nearly half again as large as Lesser Coucal and has a cleaner and glossier mantle, a thicker bill, and a redder iris.

RESOURCES ON CUCKOOS

Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo <em>Surniculus dicruroides</em> (L) and Plaintive Cuckoo <em>Cacomantis merulinus</em> occur in south China. Neither is likely to stray to the Shanghai region, but may be found as close to Shanghai as the mountains of Zhejiang. L: Skytree Nature Reserve (21.62801, 101.58878), Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China, 18 March 2012 (Craig Brelsford). R: Yingjiang, Yunnan, March 2017 (Kai Pflug).</em></em>
Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus dicruroides (L) and Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus, brood-parasitic cuckoos from south China. Both occur just south of our region, to Zhejiang. In drongo-cuckoos, independently from but in the same manner as in hawk-cuckoos, evolution created birds that bear an astonishingly close resemblance to species in a distantly related family. L: Skytree Nature Reserve (21.62801, 101.58878), Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, 18 March 2012 (Craig Brelsford). R: Yingjiang, Yunnan, March 2017 (Kai Pflug).

The Sounds of Shanghai’s Cuckoos, by Craig Brelsford

All cuckoos from the Shanghai area are covered here. I make my recordings with my handy little Olympus DM-650.

Lesser Coucal, Centropus bengalensis, 22 June 2015, reedy area (32.855576, 120.896557) at Dongtai, Jiangsu (00:06; 1.1 MB)

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus, 10 May 2015, West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve, Zhejiang. On hiking trail between Lóngfèngjiān (龙凤尖, 30.344148, 119.440201) and Xiānrén Dǐng (仙人顶) (00:43; 3.3 MB)

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus, 17 May 2015, tree plantation (32.855576, 120.896557), at Dongtai, Jiangsu (00:39; 2.4 MB)

Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides, 3 June 2014, Old Erlang Road (29.849565, 102.262012), Sichuan (03:21; 4 MB)

Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus, 2 June 2016, Xidaquan National Forest (45.727751, 130.317316), Boli, Heilongjiang (01:06; 3.4 MB)

Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, 3 June 2014, Old Erlang Road (29.849565, 102.262012), Sichuan (00:16; 1 MB)

Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus, classic four-note song plus bubbly flourish, 9 June 2016, Boli, Heilongjiang (00:02; 901 KB)

Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus, singing and quarreling, 6 June 2014, Longcanggou (29.621996, 102.885471), Sichuan (00:28; 1.2 MB)

Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus, classic double note “boop boop” faintly from a distance, 30 May 2016, Boli, Heilongjiang (00:03; 926 KB)

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, classic song plus cough, 21 May 2015, Nanhui, Shanghai (00:03; 913 KB)

EASTERN CROWNED WARBLER SINGING IN SHANGHAI

Eastern Crowned Warbler, 30 Sept. 2014, Yangkou. Craig Brelsford.
Eastern Crowned Warbler, 30 Sept. 2014, Yangkou (Rudong), Jiangsu. One of the Big 5 Leaf Warblers of ShanghaiPhylloscopus coronatus is a common autumn and spring passage migrant in Shanghai. It is usually silent in Shanghai, but on 15 April 2017, I heard one sing in Century Park. Migrating birds often sing snatches of song far from their breeding grounds. On 7 April 2016, also at Century Park, I heard White’s Thrush sing. (Craig Brelsford)

In Shanghai, the best birding occurs on the coast, 80 km from the city center. Getting there can be a chore. Birding Pudong’s Century Park, by contrast, only requires a ride on Metro Line 2. Your day list from Century will only be about a third as long as a list from Cape Nanhui, but good birding can occur there, and at little cost.

On Sat. 15 April 2017, my partners Larry Chen, Komatsu Yasuhiko (“Hiko”), Hiko’s biology teacher Zeng Qiongyu, and I had a bout of good birding at Century Park.

I had never heard Eastern Crowned Warbler sing in Shanghai. I am however very familiar with the song, because in my wife Elaine Du’s hometown of Boli, Heilongjiang, the song of Eastern Crowned Warbler is one of the most common sounds in the remnant Manchurian forest. Elaine and I have birded Boli on three occasions, most recently in May-June 2016.

Eastern Crowned Warbler, 14 May 2014, Yangkou. Craig Brelsford.
Eastern Crowned Warbler, 14 May 2014, Yangkou. (Craig Brelsford)

We were in the heavily wooded area near Gate 7 when I heard the wheezy song. It sounded just like this recording I made in Heilongjiang:

Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus, 2 June 2016, Xidaquan National Forest (45.727751, 130.317316), Boli, Heilongjiang (00:03; 922 KB)

It was just a snatch of song, and it occurred but once. I knew immediately that it was Eastern Crowned Warbler. The song was coming from the surprisingly high canopy of the wood.

All four of us strained to find the bird. The sun shone brightly through the canopy and into our eyes. Finally, Hiko saw movement. Through the glare we focused in and got a clear view of Eastern Crowned.

It was a shot of birding as good and satisfying as I get anywhere. And it just goes to show–good birding can occur anywhere, even in a busy city park.

THANKS AGAIN TO KAI PFLUG

Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug

In this post I used several of Kai Pflug’s bird images. Kai and I have worked together from the earliest days of shanghaibirding.com, and I have published dozens of Kai’s photographs on this site. Kai’s work is regularly on view on our Sightings page, and Kai made a notable contribution to my October 2016 post “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.” In September 2016 I wrote about Kai’s work cleaning up the litter at Nanhui.

Kai is from Germany, lives in Shanghai, and is an active member of the Shanghai Birding WeChat group.

Thanks also to Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez for his advice on Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo and Plaintive Cuckoo.

DAY LIST
My lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 15 April 2017 (23 species)

Thinking fast, Hiko trained his spotting scope on this singing Olive-backed Pipit and using his adapter and iPhone got this superb portrait. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Thinking fast, Hiko trained his spotting scope on this singing Olive-backed Pipit and, using his adapter and iPhone, got this superb portrait. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Century Park (Shìjì Gōngyuán [世纪公园]; 31.219361, 121.551900), Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Includes records from Bird Island (31.217405, 121.554936). Mostly sunny; low 14° C, high 25° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind SSE 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 112 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:26, sunset 18:23. SAT 15 APR 2017 06:20-10:10. Craig Brelsford, Larry Chen, Komatsu Yasuhiko, & Zeng Qiongyu.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 7
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 4
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 12
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 4
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 35
Japanese Tit Parus minor 9
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 40
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 3 (2 singing)
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 1
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1 singing
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 12
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 5
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 1
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 5
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 50
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 3
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 16 (some singing)
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 10
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 6

WORKS CONSULTED

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Cuckoos, pp. 254-9.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 4, “Sandgrouse to Cuckoos.” Cuculidae (pp. 508-607) by R. B. Payne.

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

Featured image: Clockwise from L, Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus, Yangkou (Rudong), Jiangsu, October 2010; Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus, Nanjing, Jiangsu, July 2009; and Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides, Nanhui, Shanghai, May 2016. All by Craig Brelsford.

Rainy, Quiet Nanhui

Elaine Du and I noted 86 species over the rainy weekend of 7-8 May 2016. We had White-shouldered Starling, Siberian Blue Robin, and Chestnut Bunting on Lesser Yangshan Island and Chinese Egret, Black-faced Spoonbill, and Curlew Sandpiper at Nanhui. I got my best view of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Nanhui, and on Yangshan our partner Michael Grunwell got his best view of Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. Other passage migrants were Brown Shrike, Eyebrowed Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, and season’s first Dark-sided Flycatcher at Nanhui and Blue-and-white Flycatcher on Lesser Yangshan.

9 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill make use of a pond a stone's throw from the sea-wall road at Nanhui. The rainy day depressed the numbers of tourists and made Nanhui quieter, giving these sub-adults a much-needed opportunity to chill out.
9 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill make use of a pond a stone’s throw from the sea-wall road at Nanhui. The rainy day depressed the numbers of tourists and made Nanhui quieter, giving these sub-adults a much-needed opportunity to chill out.

The nearly constant rain made birding challenging but had its good points. While depressing our bird count, especially on Sunday (just 62 species), the rain also depressed the number of visitors, giving Nanhui its former wild feel. The lack of tourists and their vehicles on Sunday allowed 9 Black-faced Spoonbill to exploit a good pond just a stone’s throw from the usually busy sea-wall road. The spoonbills, all sub-adults in non-breeding plumage, noted our car and went back to feeding. On that same pond on Saturday, we captured in a single photograph 6 birds representing five species: 2 Black-faced Spoonbill plus Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, and Chinese Egret.

6 Birds, 5 Species, 1 Photo: Top: Black-faced Spoonbill. Bottom, L-R: Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Chinese Egret.
6 Birds, 5 Species, 1 Photo: Top: Black-faced Spoonbill. Bottom, L-R: Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Chinese Egret.

Though rainy, the weather Sunday was not windy; the lack of wind plus lack of cars made Nanhui quiet and good for sound-recording. I got a particularly good recording of Black-browed Reed Warbler and Oriental Reed Warbler. Note the more slowly delivered, more powerful song of the much larger Oriental Reed Warbler.

Black-browed Reed Warbler, Song (01:19; 3.9 MB)

Oriental Reed Warbler, Song (01:00; 3.2 MB)

I also made a recording of a bird that may be Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (00:15; 1.4 MB):

Phylloscopus borealoides was one of my hot topics over the weekend, after the excitement caused by my encounter on 5 May with a Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. The tink sound I recorded on Saturday at Nanhui was delivered faster than and at a slightly different pitch from the majority of tink calls assigned to Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and currently available on xeno-canto.org. The call more closely matches the quickly delivered, higher-pitched tink calls assigned to Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

I got a good look at the leaf warbler I recorded. It was obviously a Pale-legged or Sakhalin, but the crown was greyer than in a normal Pale/Sak and it contrasted more with the olive-brown mantle. Mark Brazil in Birds of East Asia notes the “strong contrast between greyish-toned crown/nape, and greenish (or brownish) mantle” of Sak. However, these characters are only more likely to be found in Sak; they may also be found in Pale. Because the features of the two species overlap, only song or a DNA test is diagnostic.

Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. Both species are possible in Shanghai this time of year. Of the two species, Brazil says, "[F]ield identification criteria remain uncertain."
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. Both species are possible in Shanghai this time of year. Of the two species, Brazil says, “[F]ield identification criteria remain uncertain.”
Elaine and I came upon three other birds that are hard to ID to species level. The question of Pale or Sand Martin is nettlesome, as is separating Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians from Manchurian Bush Warbler H. borealis borealis. I know that the Shanghai region falls within the breeding range of canturians, but borealis very likely passes through this region, and Kennerley and Pearson suggest that migrating borealis may sing. Certainly some of the canturians/borealis that we see here are breeding canturians; the problem is singling one out with any certainty.

Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis, Nanhui, 8 May. This bird was singing and is presumably a canturians.
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis, Nanhui, 8 May. This bird was singing and is presumably a canturians.

Another problem is the non-calling Cuculus cuckoos one encounters in Shanghai. On size one can often distinguish a well-viewed Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, and if the eye is seen well one can distinguish the dark iris of Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus. Common Cuckoo C. canorus, Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus, and Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus are larger than C. poliocephalus, and unlike C. micropterus have yellow irides. C. optatus and C. saturatus are virtually indistinguishable, but this pair and C. canorus have some differences, among them the often unbarred yellow undertail coverts of C. optatus/saturatus and the thicker barring of those species on the breast and belly.

Common Cuckoo almost certainly breeds in Nanhui, and very soon we should be hearing its famous call. I have recorded neither C. optatus nor C. saturatus in the Shanghai region, I have witnessed C. micropterus in Shanghai, in the Tianmu Mountains, and at Dongtai in Jiangsu, and I have found C. poliocephalus at Dongtai.

Cuculus cuckoo, Nanhui, 8 May 2016. By size we know it's not Lesser Cuckoo, by iris color we know it's not Indian Cuckoo, and we can guess that it's probably Common Cuckoo. But Himalyan and Oriental can't be ruled out.
Cuculus cuckoo, Nanhui, 8 May 2016. By size we know it’s not Lesser Cuckoo, by iris color we know it’s not Indian Cuckoo, and we can guess that it’s probably Common Cuckoo. But Himalyan and Oriental can’t be ruled out.

In springtime, one encounters Cuculus adults, which if not calling are hard enough to ID; but just wait, come autumn we will be seeing the juveniles coming through. Juveniles never call, and the various Cuculus species in juvenile form resemble each other even more than Cuculus adults.

On Saturday, Elaine and I birded once again with Shanghai-based English birder Michael Grunwell. On Sunday, we birded briefly with Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, and later Kai Pflug and his wife Jing dropped by.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 7 May 2016 (38 species)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Lesser Yangshan Island, 7 May 2016.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Lesser Yangshan Island, 7 May 2016.

Birds noted on Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327), & Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873), an area on reclaimed land between Lesser Yangshan & Dazhitou Island (Dà Zhǐtou Dǎo [大指头岛]). Mostly cloudy and rainy. Low 15° C, high 17° C. Wind ENE 29 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 134 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:03, sunset 18:39. SAT 07 MAY 2016 05:20-08:35. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 5
Phalacrocorax sp. 1
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 3
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 1
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos 3
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 50
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 3
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 7 singing
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler H. fortipes 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Zosterops sp. 20
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 2
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 5
White-shouldered Starling Sturnia sinensis 1
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 4
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 6
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 1
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 2
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia 1
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 3
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 1
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila 2

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 7 May 2016 (71 species)

Tristram's Bunting, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. A passage migrant in Shanghai, Emberiza tristrami is a woodland bunting and is often found in the microforests at Nanhui. This is a female.
Tristram’s Bunting, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. A passage migrant in Shanghai, Emberiza tristrami is a woodland bunting and is often found in the microforests at Nanhui. This is a female.

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 between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Mostly cloudy and rainy. Low 15° C, high 17° C. Wind ENE 29 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 134 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:03, sunset 18:39. SAT 07 MAY 2016 09:30-17:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 11
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 4
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 11
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 8
Little Egret E. garzetta 38
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 3
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 6
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 6
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 6
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 3
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 7
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 8
Common Redshank T. totanus 5
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 30
Common Greenshank T. ochropus 5
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 15
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 21
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 20
Sanderling Calidris alba 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis ca. 200
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 15
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 40
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 6
Dunlin C. alpina 1
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus 5
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus 2
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Cuculus sp. 1
Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 8
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 2
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 7 singing
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 16
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia ca. 500
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 100
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 4
Two-barred Warbler P. plumbeitarsus 1
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides 1 making tink call
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 30
Marsh Grassbird Locustella pryeri 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 8
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 3
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 3
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 10
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 8
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 1
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 2
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 2
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 15 (12 tschutschensis, 3 taivana)
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 6
White Wagtail M. alba 4 leucopsis
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 8 May 2016 (62 species)

Eyebrowed Thrush, Nanhui, 8 May 2016.
Eyebrowed Thrush, Nanhui, 8 May 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 between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Showers & drizzle with brief periods of no precipitation. Low 14° C, high 17° C. Wind E 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 70 (moderate). Sunrise 05:02, sunset 18:39. SUN 08 MAY 2016 06:30-17:25. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 7
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 9
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 3
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Great Egret A. alba 7
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 10
Little Egret E. garzetta 45
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 17
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 13
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 2
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 4
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 2
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 16
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 15
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 13
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 19
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 55
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 9
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 16
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 1
Dunlin C. alpina 3
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 3
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Cuculus sp. 1 (not C. micropterus, not C. poliocephalus)
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 30
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 2
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 7
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia ca. 300
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 10 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 5
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis ca. 80
Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 8
Zosterops sp. 3
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 9
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 3
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 1
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 19
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 7
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 11
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 2
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 2
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 8

Grey-streaked Flycatcher in the rain, Nanhui, 7 May 2016.
Grey-streaked Flycatcher in the rain, Nanhui, 7 May 2016.

Featured image: Black-faced Spoonbill in sub-adult plumage, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 7 May 2016. The spoonbills were taking advantage of the rainy weather, using pools just below the sea wall road. The road is busy when the weather is good but on rainy days is quiet.