Will the Spoon Survive?

Editor’s note: Our featured image above, which shows a Spoon-billed Sandpiper and question mark, sets the theme for this post, in which we raise this question: In the face of manic coastal development in China, what will become of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, among the most highly endangered shorebirds in the world? The unique “spoon,” or spatulate bill–will future generations look on in wonder at it?

In Yangkou, the famous birding location in Rudong County, Jiangsu, my partners and I on Mon. 3 Oct. 2016 found a roost of 10,300 waders. We encountered this stunning spectacle on a reclaimed parcel of mudflat that will soon be transformed into a kite-flying ground for the tourists. Have you ever wondered why species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank are on the brink? This picture will help answer your question:

On Mon. 3 Oct. 2016 at Yangkou, at this strange and unlikely spot, with trucks roaring, windmills whirring, and earth-moving machines clanging, we found 10,300 shorebirds.
On Mon. 3 Oct. 2016 at Yangkou, at this unlikely spot (32.550563, 121.079042), with trucks roaring, windmills whirring, and earth-moving machines clanging, our birding team found 10,300 shorebirds. Photo by Elaine Du.

If other nearby areas are suitable, then why would so many shorebirds choose to roost literally in the shadow of the clanging backhoes and roaring dump trucks?

Simple. Because there are no better areas.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, and dozens of other shorebird species are being squeezed by coastal development, precisely of the sort shown in the photo above.

Surveying the strange scene, my partner Jan-Erik Nilsén said, “I feel the way I felt with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper yesterday–that I’m saying goodbye.”

13 SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER AT DONGTAI

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Dongtai, Jiangsu, China, 2 Oct. 2016.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Dongtai, 2 Oct. 2016. Bird 29, a male, was flagged in July 2015. This past breeding season, 29 and his mate, 34, produced two successful clutches.

Jan-Erik was referring to the events of Sun. 2 Oct. 2016 on the coast of Dongtai County, 35 km (22 miles) north of Yangkou. There we found 13 Spoon-billed Sandpiper foraging at the base of the sea wall at low tide. We watched as the sandpipers casually made their way to within 20 meters of our front-row seat on the wall.

Tempering our delight was this dark thought: Every last square inch of the area on which those endangered birds were foraging is slated for yet more reclamation. The disaster unfolding now at Yangkou may well strike Dongtai.

For now, Dongtai is still magical, with unbroken vistas from sea wall to horizon. For this reason, Dongtai has replaced Yangkou as the world’s best place to observe Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank.

But if Dongtai goes the way of Rudong County, then yet another step will have been taken in locking up the Chinese coast–and throwing away the key.

If you care about Spoon-billed Sandpiper and would like to help, then the RSPB would like to hear from you.

A BUSY NATIONAL DAY WEEKEND

L-R: Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, and Jan-Erik Nilsén, Magic Forest, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 3 Oct. 2016.
L-R: Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, and Jan-Erik Nilsén, Magic Forest, Yangkou, 3 Oct. Michael and Jan-Erik are the two birders who have taught Elaine and me the most. A British birder based in Shanghai, Michael introduced us to Emeifeng, the bird-rich mountain in Fujian, and he joined us on a trip to find Nonggang Babbler in Guangxi last December. Beijing-based Jan-Erik visited us in Shanghai last April and May, on the latter trip helping us become the first birders to report Blue Whistling Thrush in Shanghai since 1987.

Our long look at Spoon-billed Sandpiper highlighted a three-day birding trip over Chinese National Day. My wife Elaine Du and I birded with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik, a Swede working in Beijing. The big roost at Yangkou plus a day and a half at Dongtai helped take our three-day coastal-birding total to 125 species. We had 29 Nordmann’s Greenshank and 35 Black-faced Spoonbill on Sunday at Dongtai, 6 Chinese Egret at the big roost at Yangkou and at Dongtai, and Little Curlew at the big roost.

Also notable were 230 Eurasian Oystercatcher at Dongtai; 19 Whimbrel at Dongtai as well as at our third site, Chongming Island in Shanghai; just 34 endangered Far Eastern Curlew at Dongtai; 573 Eurasian Curlew at Dongtai, including a big count of 570 on Sunday; plus 71 Great Knot, 144 Red Knot, an unusual view of Temminck’s Stint on the mudflats, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Comparison of non-breeding Chinese Egret to non-breeding Little Egret.
Comparison of non-breeding Chinese Egret and Little Egret. Chinese (1a) has thicker legs than Little (1b), and Chinese has a thicker, more dagger-like bill (2a) than Little (2b). The bill of non-breeding Chinese has a yellow base to the lower mandible, whereas the bill of Little is all-black, or, as here, black with pinkish base. Chinese (3) often appears hunched and more thick-set than the longer-legged and longer-necked Little (4). Chinese is also more likely to show greenish tibiae and tarsi (1a, 3). 1a, 3: Dongtai, 2 Oct. 2016, by Elaine Du. All others by Craig Brelsford. 1b: Nanhui, Shanghai, November 2010. 2a: Laotieshan, Liaoning, September 2013. 2b, 4: Gongqing Forest Park, Shanghai, September 2009.

Finally, passerines: at Dongtai, Chinese Grey Shrike, Hair-crested Drongo, Red-rumped Swallow and Asian House Martin as well as a lone Yellow-bellied Tit migrating south along the sea wall. Also season’s first Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, White-throated Rock Thrush, Red-throated Pipit, and Little Bunting. We found Siberian Thrush and many other passerines at a wooded area around a sluice gate (32.722313, 120.942883). Still missing from our autumn 2016 Shanghai-area list: Bull-headed Shrike, Red-flanked Bluetail, Daurian Redstart, and all Turdus thrushes except Chinese Blackbird.

The big wader roost at Yangkou was made up mainly of Kentish Plover (6500) and Dunlin (2800). Inland we found Chinese Bamboo Partridge (a new Yangkou record for me) and Black-winged Kite.

Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 3 Oct. 2016.
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, Yangkou, 3 Oct. 2016. The dark iris rules out all regional Cuculus cuckoos except Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus. The thrush-like size of these birds eliminates Indian, which is one-third larger than Lesser.

At Yangkou, in our van we followed 3 Lesser Cuckoo along a line of trees paralleling the road. The sustained view plus photos clearly indicated Cuculus cuckoos of a thrush’s size, not a falcon’s size. Credit goes to Michael for quickly noting the small size of the cuckoo and encouraging me to take the leap beyond “Cuculus sp.” Jan-Erik supported Michael, and after viewing the dozens of photos we took, it was obvious they were right.

ZHONGSHAN IN THE RAIN

Wooded area near little central pond at Shanghai's Zhongshan Park.
Wooded area near little central pond at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. Stand atop the rocky bridge (center) to get a glare-free view into the mid-canopy.

On Wed. afternoon 28 Sept. I saw in the drizzle an opportunity. In urban parks, light rain has little effect on the birds but a big effect on the humans. The parks are nearly empty. Elaine and I made the short walk from our apartment to Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park (31.221888, 121.420066). We had 15 species, 5 of them migrants: Yellow-browed Warbler 1, Arctic-type Warbler 2, Eastern Crowned Warbler 1, Grey-streaked Flycatcher 2, Dark-sided Flycatcher 2. To our Shanghai-area autumn 2016 list we added Black-throated Bushtit and Oriental Magpie-Robin.

The area around the little central pond (31.224447, 121.413963) is the must-see place in the park. Again and again the little central pond has been the place where the birds are found. This past May, I found singing Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler at that spot.

When nearly empty, Zhongshan Park shows its natural side. The park is more than a century old, and some of the trees qualify as old-growth secondary. The many trees absorb the city’s sounds. The decibel level is low; one feels one has left the city.

OTHER NOTES

Panorama of Temple Forest, as it used to look.
Panorama of Temple Forest as it used to look, 15 Nov. 2015. Now, a mini-zoo occupies the open land around the forest proper and has invaded the wood itself. As with the big roost site mentioned at the outset of this article, in which mudflats critical to shorebirds are being sacrificed so that day-trippers can fly kites, here too an area of interest to birders has been taken away. Birders and international conservationists have been active in Yangkou for around a decade. When they sat down with the government and put their cards on the table, the government apparently saw a losing hand, and gave all the chips to the developers.

— The “Temple Forest” (32.560253, 121.039793), the famous migrant trap at Haiyin Temple in Yangkou, has lost most of its value to birders. The Temple Forest was unparalleled as a migrant trap, routinely offering up a stunning array of species drawn to the cover of the leaves. A mini-zoo set up earlier this year in the unwooded areas has since expanded into the wood itself, with cages, mini-cottages, and fences throughout. As the trees are still standing, flycatchers and leaf warblers may continue to use the area.

— One bright note is the small wood next to the lighthouse at Haiyin Temple (32.561881, 121.040619). Fishermen who had been squatting there have moved out, and the area has been cleaned up. A sidewalk now runs past the wood. It is probably too small an area to be developed, and as it has the very best location right at the tip of the headland, it will continue to attract migrating birds.

Day Lists
My first reference is IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 1 for Wed. 28 Sept. 2016 (16 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Changning District, Shanghai, China. Drizzle. Low 22° C, high 26° C. Visibility 9 km. Wind SSE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 46 (good). Sunrise 05:47, sunset 17:41. WED 28 SEP 2016 12:20-13:30. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 10
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 4
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 5
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 8
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 1 Oct. 2016 (53 species)

Elaine Du surveys a pond inside the sea wall on eastern Chongming Island, 1 Oct. 2016.
Elaine Du surveys a pond inside the sea wall on eastern Chongming Island, 1 Oct. 2016. The point is 31.554712, 121.939863 and in winter contains various species of duck. The sea wall and mudflats beyond are part of a nature reserve, are off-limits to the public, and are nearly impossible to access.

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 District, Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Cloudy; high 28° C. PM2.5 AQI: 118 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:48, sunset 17:39. SAT 01 OCT 2016 11:35-17:25. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 3
Garganey A. querquedula 7
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Purple Heron A. purpurea 2
Great Egret A. alba 12
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 21
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 40
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 6
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 1
Accipiter sp. 2
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 10
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 54
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 6
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 7
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 6
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 4
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 2
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 15
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 40
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 4
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida 14
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 12
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 2
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 16
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 22
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 18
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 1
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 60
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 20
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 12
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 10
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 1

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 2 Oct. 2016 (89 species)

Comparison of Far Eastern Curlew and Eurasian Curlew.
Far Eastern Curlew and Eurasian Curlew are most easily separated in flight. Then one can see the barred brown underwing of Far Eastern (1) as well as its entirely brown upperparts (3). The underwing coverts and axillaries of Eurasian Curlew (ssp. orientalis) are, by contrast, mainly white (2). The back and rump are also white (4). 1 and 3 taken September 2012 in Yangkou. 2 and 4 taken 2 Oct. 2016 at Dongtai. All by Craig Brelsford.

Birds noted around Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Yancheng Prefecture, Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Cloudy; high 28° C. Sunrise 05:49, sunset 17:38. SUN 02 OCT 2016 08:30-17:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Gadwall Anas strepera 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 9
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Great Egret A. alba 5
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 5
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes 5
Little Egret E. garzetta 130
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 20 juvs.
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 35
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis 2
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus osculans 230
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 500
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 1
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 80
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 1
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 300
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 5
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 30
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata 570
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa melanuroides 1
Bar-tailed Godwit L. lapponica 10
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 60
Red Knot C. canutus 140
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 200
Sanderling C. alba 2
Dunlin C. alpina 3000
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 155
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 4
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 2
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 20
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer 29
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 5
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 4
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus 13
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 25
Saunders’s Gull C. saundersi 30
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris 20
Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 15
Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus heuglini 1 ad.
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 208
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 30
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 4
Cuculus sp. 1
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Eurasian Hobby F. subbuteo 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 10
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 300
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 1 juv.
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus 1
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler P. proregulus 1
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 10
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 11
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 1
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 9
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Taiga Flycatcher F. albicilla 1
White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 42
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 3
White Wagtail M. alba 8
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 20
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 1
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 20
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens 1
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2

List 1 of 2 for Mon. 3 Oct. 2016 (35 species)

Chinese Grey Shrike, Dongtai, 3 Oct. 2016.
Chinese Grey Shrike, Dongtai, 3 Oct. The prominent white bar on the primaries is readily visible, especially in flight, and sets this species apart. Lanius sphenocercus sphenocercus is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor in the Shanghai area, appearing most frequently on Chongming and Hengsha islands and at Dongtai.

Birds noted around Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Yancheng Prefecture, Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Sunny; high 28° C. Sunrise 05:50, sunset 17:37. MON 03 OCT 2016 08:00-10:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Great Egret A. alba 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 25
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 2
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 1
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 2
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 2
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 3
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata 3
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 11
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 50
Dunlin C. alpina 1
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 5
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 10
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 31
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 20
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 10
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 25
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 2
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 1
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 1
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 2
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 1

List 2 of 2 for Mon. 3 Oct. (74 species)

Another look at the unlikely wader roost.
Another look at the unlikely wader roost at 32.550563, 121.079042 in Yangkou. The speckling of white in the mid-ground is mostly Kentish Plover, of which there were 6500 roosting among 10,300 shorebirds. Photo by Elaine Du.

Birds noted at Yangkou (Yángkǒu [洋口]), fishing town in Rudong County (Rúdōng Xiàn [如东县]), Nantong Prefecture, Jiangsu, China (32.537730, 121.017746). Among areas visited: Haiyin Temple (Hǎiyìn Sì [海印寺], 32.558756, 121.044740) and a temporary roosting site on reclaimed mudflat soon to be developed (32.550563, 121.079042). Sunny; high 28° C. Sunrise 05:50, sunset 17:37. MON 03 OCT 2016 10:35-16:05. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Chinese Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola thoracicus 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 1
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Great Egret A. alba 2
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes 1
Little Egret Western E. garzetta 35
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 2
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 5
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 200
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 6
Lesser/Greater Sand Plover C. mongolus/leschenaultii 700
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 6500
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius 2
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 15
Little Curlew Numenius minutus 1
Whimbrel N. phaeopus 8
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 4
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 6
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 6
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 6
Red Knot C. canutus 4
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 20
Sanderling C. alba 8
Dunlin C. alpina 2800
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 15
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 2
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus 40
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 50
Saunders’s Gull C. saundersi 430
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris 1
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 50
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 4
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 8
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 3
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 5
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 20
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 16
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 8
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 6
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 50 (5 tytleri)
Japanese Tit Parus minor 4
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 50
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 2
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 4
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 4
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 15
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 1 calling
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 12
Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica 2
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 3
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 8
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 9
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 5
Taiga Flycatcher F. albicilla 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 5
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 3
White Wagtail M. alba 2
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 8
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 3
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 3

Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén seek new ticks in the Magic Forest, Yangkou, 3 Oct. 2016.
Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén seek new ticks in the Magic Forest, Yangkou, 3 Oct. 2016. See you soon!

 

Where the World’s Greatest Flyway Meets the World’s Greatest City

Finally, it is ready: Elaine’s and my report on the doings of this past spring in Shanghai. We’re calling it “Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2016.”

The report is the latest in a growing list of resources available on shanghaibirding.com. Everything we do here is geared toward showing you what birding is like at the point on the Earth where the world’s greatest migratory flyway meets the world’s greatest city.

The report covers 7 March to 24 May 2016. Elaine and I birded 38 of those 79 days and noted 240 species. We partnered with members of our network of subscribers and contributors to shanghaibirding.com. Special thanks to Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén as well as to Xueping Popp, Stephan Popp, Kai Pflug, and Ian Davies.

Why should you read “Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2016”? Read it to plan your own explorations and to get an idea of what birds you can expect to see in this city in March, April, and May. You’ll find no more complete a report on that subject, anywhere.

From the intro:

“We deepened our knowledge of the birds of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway and increased our understanding of the pressures these birds face in the Shanghai region. One of the most densely populated areas in the world and an economic dynamo, the Shanghai tri-province area encompasses Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, is the size of the U.S. state of Kansas, and has a population of 160 million–half that of the United States.”

From the highlights:

“ — We continued to monitor species under threat by the uncontrolled coastal development afflicting the region, among them the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Great Knot, and Yellow-breasted Bunting; near-threatened Eurasian Oystercatcher, Asian Dowitcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Marsh Grassbird, and Reed Parrotbill; and vulnerable Chinese Egret, Saunders’s Gull, and Yellow Bunting. We led a group one of whose members found the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

“ — We recorded the first Blue Whistling Thrush in Shanghai since 1987. Other interesting finds were Horned Grebe on Chongming, Oriental Plover on Hengsha Island, Ruddy Kingfisher at Yangkou, Red-throated Thrush at Century Park, singing Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Zhongshan Park, Grey-crowned Warbler, Two-barred Warbler, Pechora Pipit, and Citrine Wagtail at Nanhui, White-shouldered Starling on Lesser Yangshan, Rufous-faced Warbler at Nanhui and on Lesser Yangshan, and Bluethroat at Nanhui and on Chongming.”

Featured image: Screenshot of our newly published report, “Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2016,” now available in the Reports section of shanghaibirding.com.

A Batch o’ Qinghai Goodies

Last Sunday 21 Aug. Elaine Du and I returned to Shanghai from Qinghai. We had arrived in Xining on 26 June, and we spent exactly eight weeks in the sparsely populated province. We drove 8054 km (4,994 miles). I lost 5 kg (11 lbs.). On Sunday Dusky Warbler near Gonghe became our 195th and final species of the trip.

While in Qinghai, Elaine and I made new friends and deepened our friendship with our first-rate partners Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén. And the memories … let me tell you ’bout the memories.

Better yet, let me show you them. Ready?

I found this downy Bar-headed Goose at sunset on 28 June on the shore of Qinghai Lake, whose blue sheen you can see in the background. This youngster has much growing to do before he’ll be ready to make the flight across the Himalaya to India for the winter. Will he get strong enough in time to make the frightening trip? Strength, my lad, strength!

Bar-headed Goose, Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016. F/7.1, 1/800, ISO 1600.
Bar-headed Goose, Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016. F/7.1, 1/800, ISO 1600.

Last week I created a photo essay, “Little Birds in a Big Land,” in which I photographed Isabelline Wheatear from a distance, with mountains, sand dunes, and scrub visible in the background. It was an intense, 90-minute photo workout with that arid-country specialist, well-adapted to the semi-deserts of Wulan County.

Isabelline Wheatear 1/3. F/14, 1/400, ISO 1600. Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 18 Aug. 2016.
Isabelline Wheatear 1/3. F/14, 1/400, ISO 1600. Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 18 Aug. 2016.
F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
F/16, 1/250, ISO 1600.
F/16, 1/250, ISO 1600.

Henderson’s Ground Jay is also known as Mongolian Ground Jay. Despite the ground in the name, these birds fly just fine.

Henderson's Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 30 June 2016. F/6.3, 1/6400, ISO 2500.
Henderson’s Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 30 June 2016. F/6.3, 1/6400, ISO 2500.
Henderson's Ground Jay in flight. Chaka, 30 June 2016.
Henderson’s Ground Jay in flight. Chaka, 30 June 2016.

When agitated, breeding White-rumped Snowfinch does a wing-flicking display reminiscent of Claudia’s Leaf Warbler. Qinghai Lake, 28 June.

White-rumped Snowfinch contorting its head in territorial display. Along G109 near Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016.
White-rumped Snowfinch contorting its head in territorial display. Along G109 near Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016.
Left wing-flick.
Left wing-flick.
Right wing-flick.
Right wing-flick.

The top two photos displayed below are of Gansu Leaf Warbler (the lower of the two from our newly discovered breeding site along the Heihe River in northern Qinghai); the bottom one is of Sichuan Leaf Warbler. Note the cleaner lower mandible of Gansu Leaf Warbler and compare it to the typically darker lower mandible of Sichuan. In summer, when we met these species, they were singing, and the songs of the two species differ much. In winter, when the birds are quiet, bill color is a good way to begin to identify these two similar-looking species.

Gansu Leaf Warbler at Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.
Gansu Leaf Warbler at Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.
Gansu Leaf Warbler, riparian forest along Heihe River, Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 4 Aug. 2016.
Gansu Leaf Warbler, riparian forest along Heihe River, Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 4 Aug. 2016.
Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Jiangxi Forest Station, Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, 17 July 2016.
Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Jiangxi Forest Station, Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, 17 July 2016.

I sound-recorded Gansu Leaf Warbler:

Gansu Leaf Warbler, Qilian County, Qinghai, 3 Aug. 2016 (01:35; 4 MB)

We found a new location for Przevalski’s Partridge along some back roads in Wulan County. Rusty-necklaced Partridge (alternative name) looks much like Chukar, but note the rusty line.

Rusty-necklaced Partridge, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, 17 Aug. 2016.
Rusty-necklaced Partridge, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, 17 Aug. 2016.

While we’re on partridges, what about this charismatic Tibetan Partridge, a semi-tame specimen at the nunnery, Kanda Gorge, Yushu Prefecture.

Tibetan Partridge, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016.
Tibetan Partridge, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016.

Birds of KM 2189.5 along the G109 near Qinghai Lake: Robin Accentor, a Siberian Stonechat that wasn’t happy when we stumbled upon its nest, Tibetan Snowfinch using the embankment for a nest, and that one-of-a-kind species that is neither finch nor bunting but derives from a line independent of the two: Przevalski’s “Finch.”

Robin Accentor in scrub above KM 2189.5 on G109 near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Robin Accentor in scrub above KM 2189.5 on G109 near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Siberian Stonechat in hovering flight near nest, 28 June 2016.
Siberian Stonechat in hovering flight near nest, 28 June 2016.
Tibetan Snowfinch looking warily at cameraman before entering its cavity nest. KM 2189.5, G109, near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Tibetan Snowfinch looking warily at cameraman before entering its cavity nest. KM 2189.5, G109, near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Przevalski's 'Finch' in song, 28 June 2016, KM 2189.5.
Przevalski’s ‘Finch’ in song, 28 June 2016, KM 2189.5.

Blue-fronted Redstart is also sui generis, the only blue-headed Phoenicurus. Females are tougher to distinguish from other female redstarts, but note the inverted T, shown here on this male. Females have it too, and it is distinctive.

Blue-fronted Redstart showing inverted T on tail. Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.
Blue-fronted Redstart showing inverted T on tail. Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.

We had a memorable moment with Black-necked Crane near Lake Xiligou, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture.

Black-necked Crane in flight, Lake Xiligou.
Black-necked Crane in flight, Lake Xiligou.

More bird + land: Bar-headed Goose at point where Eling Lake empties into the young Yellow River, Guoluo Prefecture.

Bar-headed Goose stands at the point where high-altitude Eling Lake empties into the young Yellow River. 3 July 2016.
Bar-headed Goose stands at the point where high-altitude Eling Lake empties into the young Yellow River. 3 July 2016.

On a moonless, pitch-black night we heard a family of Eurasian Eagle-Owl making strange sounds. I shot the owls by the light of our headlights. We were in Haibei Prefecture.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl at cliff-side roost in Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai, 30 July 2016.
Eurasian Eagle-Owl at cliff-side roost in Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai, 30 July 2016.

I had long wanted to put Chinese Thrush in my camera. Here’s the moment when I achieved that goal. I was at the riparian forest along the Heihe River in Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture.

Chinese Thrush in riparian forest along Heihe River, Haibei Prefecture. 4 Aug. 2016.
Chinese Thrush in riparian forest along Heihe River, Haibei Prefecture. 4 Aug. 2016.

Amazing Tibetan Sandgrouse near Hala Lake.

Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, Haixi Prefecture, 10 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, Haixi Prefecture, 10 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala, 10 Aug.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala, 10 Aug.

Brandt’s Mountain Finch may look unexciting, but just watch it fly.

Brandt's Mountain Finch is a small but powerful bird, taking long, straight flights at altitudes topping 5000 m. I found this individual 9 Aug. near Hala Lake at an elev. of 4400 m.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch is a small but powerful bird, taking long, straight flights at altitudes topping 5000 m. I found this individual 9 Aug. near Hala Lake at an elev. of 4400 m.

Do these Himalayan Vulture disgust you? Why? They’re only doing their job–a very important one. And they have manners. Note that the juvenile doesn’t interfere with the adult as it feeds.

Himalayan Vulture, Guoluo Prefecture, 20 July 2016.
Himalayan Vulture, Guoluo Prefecture, 20 July 2016.

King of the high-altitude falcons: Saker.

Saker Falcon, Haibei Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.
Saker Falcon, Haibei Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.

Who cares about Spotted Dove? When you’re in a city park in Shanghai, then you don’t care about Spotted Dove. When you’re in Qilian County, Qinghai, the extreme west of its range, then you care about Spotted Dove.

Unusual record of Spotted Dove in Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 1 Aug. 2016.
Unusual record of Spotted Dove in Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 1 Aug. 2016.

Goitered Gazelle, a Vulnerable species. Ranges from Arabian Peninsula to China. We recorded it in Wulan County.

Goitered Gazelle near Lake Xiligou, Wulan County, 16 Aug. 2016.
Goitered Gazelle near Lake Xiligou, Wulan County, 16 Aug. 2016.

Tibetan Gazelle was waiting for us at sunset in the mountains north of Hala Lake.

Tibetan Gazelle near Suli, Haixi Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Gazelle near Suli, Haixi Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.

We noted Glover’s Pika at various places in Yushu Prefecture. This little guy is marketable!

Glover's Pika, Yushu Prefecture, 4 July 2016.
Glover’s Pika, Yushu Prefecture, 4 July 2016.

This Mountain Weasel is one of the cutest little killers you’ll ever meet. Like all weasels, it’s almost completely carnivorous. In Haibei Prefecture one afternoon, Elaine and I watched this little dude dart into and out of the pika burrows, terrorizing the local birds and pikas. The fruitless attempts were comical, but we noted with respect the speed and agility of this star performer.

Mountain Weasel, Haibei Prefecture, 31 July 2016.
Mountain Weasel, Haibei Prefecture, 31 July 2016.

There’s something sensuous about those smoothly curved sand dunes–and in that soft sunset light. Right time, definitely right place.

In a few weeks I’m going to be missing Qinghai big-time, and scenes like these are going to be why. There’s no place on Earth like Qinghai, no place under the sun like the Tibetan Plateau.

The sand in these dunes was deposited grain by grain by the wind. Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016. F/7.1, 1/200, ISO 1250.
The sand in these dunes was deposited grain by grain by the wind. Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016. F/7.1, 1/200, ISO 1250.

Other posts in our Qinghai 2016 series:

Tibetan Lynx, Kanda Mountain, Qinghai
Qinghai 2016 Week 3 Highlights
Qinghai 2016 Week 4 Highlights

Featured image: “We Are Family!” sang Sister Sledge back in ’79. Here’s the Chinese-American adventure team, Elaine Du (L) and yours truly–partners, spouses, family. We were at Eling Lake, Qinghai, where the Yellow River and Chinese culture are born. The date was 3 July 2016. This is a self-portrait, engineered (as indeed every picture in this post was engineered) by Craig Brelsford using the Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.

Qinghai 2016 Week 3 Highlights

Greetings from Xining! Elaine Du and I have been relaxing here after birding Qinghai for four weeks straight, from 26 June to 24 July 2016. Recently, I described for you the events of our fourth week. The third week, 11-17 July, took place entirely within Yushu Prefecture and featured the arrival of Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. The highlight of Week 3, and indeed of the entire trip so far, was finding Tibetan Lynx. We also noted 93 bird species, discovered new birding sites, immersed ourselves in Tibetan Buddhist culture, and saw evidence of attacks by Brown Bear.

X308, A LITTLE-KNOWN, BIRDY ROAD

On 11 July I picked up Jan-Erik at Yushu Batang Airport, at elev. 3890 m (12,762 ft.) the eighth-highest civilian airport in the world. I videoed Jan-Erik’s plane as it flew in.

Jan-Erik, Elaine Du, and I spent 12-13 July exploring a scenic and birdy 85-km stretch of County Road 308 (X308). The route starts at the junction on the G214 15 km south of Yushu (Jiegu); the junction is at 32.869631, 97.070772. The route ends at Xiao Sumang Xiang near the Qinghai-Tibet border. The midpoint is Dagela Pass (4752 m), which divides the Yangtze and Mekong watersheds. On either side of the pass is scrub more pristine than any I have seen in Qinghai. In many places, the scrub covers entire slopes, from the tree line hundreds of meters above to the X308 on the valley floor.

Tibetan Partridge and Woolly Hare feeding together, 12 July 2016.
Tibetan Partridge and Woolly Hare, 12 July.

Our X308 route is a good place to find Tibetan Partridge. We noted 28 without really searching. In one dreamlike scene, a pair of Tibetan Partridge were feeding at dusk with a Woolly Hare.

Among our other X308 highlights Alpine Accentor at Dagela Pass and, on the slopes below, Grandala and Güldenstädt’s Redstart. We noted Red-fronted Rosefinch, the highest-breeding (to 5700 masl) bird in the Palearctic, and Streaked Rosefinch, another high-altitude breeder.

Red-fronted Rosefinch along X308 in Yushu County. Elev. 4270 m. 12 July 2016.
Red-fronted Rosefinch along X308 in Yushu County.

The scrub delivered close views of White-browed Tit and White-browed Tit-Warbler as well as Common Cuckoo and Greenish Warbler. In the streams were Ibisbill, White-throated Dipper, and Brown Dipper. Bearded Vulture, Himalayan Vulture, and Golden Eagle soared above. Among the most conspicuous birds were Kessler’s Thrush (39), found mainly around the scrub, and on the grassy slopes Brandt’s Mountain Finch (50) and Tibetan Snowfinch (25). We noted a single Snow Pigeon.

White-browed Tit in scrub along X308 in Yushu County. Elev. 4310 m. 13 July 2016.
White-browed Tit in scrub along X308 in Yushu County.

A group of eagle-eyed Tibetans gave us close views of White-lipped Deer. Two truckfuls of these hard-working men skidded to a stop near us, curious about the foreigners with the telescope on the side of the X308. None spoke Chinese. As one of the men was trying out my binoculars, another man was pointing to the scrub-covered slope and giving me the three symbol with his fingers. Finally I understood: 3 White-lipped Deer just visible in the scrub above. The buck looked formidable and the two does appeared healthy.

We returned to Yushu (Jiegu) and there spent the night of 13-14 July.

DOGS, LYNX, AND BEARS, OH MY!

On 14 July we set off again, this time heading south on the G214 to Nangqian County and Kanda Mountain. We found Wallcreeper along the G214 as well as on a sheer limestone wall in the narrows at Kanda Gorge.

Kanda Nunnery is nestled in a valley above the Gorge and is an easy place to pick up Tibetan Partridge and Tibetan Babax. We saw a partridge but were stymied in our quest to view Tibetan Babax by a pack of watchdogs. As I was walking toward the car, Elaine, who had been resting in the car, suddenly emerged, startling the dogs, which had been lying near the car. Elaine climbed back into the car, and the dogs surrounded me, growling and baring their teeth. Nine days earlier, I had fed and seemingly befriended the very dogs that were now snarling at me. I first tried standing firm, but still they closed in. Then I kicked them, but when I went for one, the other four would nip at my heels. I finally had no choice but to jump onto the hood of our Mitsubishi Pajero. One of the nuns came out and chased the dogs away.

White-browed Tit-Warbler, Kanda Mountain. Elev. 4250 m. 14 July 2016.
White-browed Tit-Warbler, Kanda Mountain.

All the unpleasantness with the dogs melted away the moment we saw the lynx. If you have read my recent post, then you know the story. Everyone was deeply moved and happy. Lynx roam throughout the Northern Hemisphere and are mainly associated with boreal forests. Alpine meadows at 4550 masl may not be classic lynx habitat, but our specimen was very much well-suited–a sleek, supple, healthy cat, probably feasting regularly on the Blue Sheep, Himalayan Marmot, Plateau Pika, Woolly Hare, and gamebirds that are abundant at Kanda.

Just before finding the lynx, we observed a group of White-browed Tit-Warbler at 4400 masl. At Kanda Pass, 4680 masl, we found the local Tibetan Bunting within minutes of our arrival. Here is the male singing:

Tibetan Bunting, Kanda Pass, 14 July 2016 (00:33; 2.9 MB)

Elaine Du viewing Saturn through our Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope at Kanda Pass, elev. 4680 m, 14 July 2016. The scope is mounted atop our Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and MVH502AH video head. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6.
Elaine Du viewing Saturn through our Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope at Kanda Pass (32.314561, 96.624807), elev. 4680 m, 14 July. The scope is mounted atop our Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and MVH502AH video head. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6.

Star-gazing at Kanda Pass was slightly better than it was 3 July near Maduo, probably because we were 400 m higher. I could not keep my eyes off Saturn, its ring clearly visible. The Galilean moons of Jupiter were easy to pick out, and we saw the bands ringing the gas giant.

The next morning, 15 July, just below Kanda Pass, Jan-Erik’s sensitive ear once again proved its worth. He correctly assumed that the rosefinch in front of us was not the more commonly noted Pink-rumped Rosefinch but Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch. I recorded the call of the individual shown below:

Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Kanda Mountain, 15 July 2016 (00:49; 2.7 MB)

Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Kanda Mountain, elev. 4350 m. 15 July 2016.
Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Kanda Mountain, elev. 4350 m, 15 July.

We drove over Kanda Pass to the eastern side of the mountain, passing through good scrub habitat and getting a view of singing White-tailed Rubythroat. We followed the X830 to Maozhuang (32.266550, 96.824579) and continued south through the scenic gorge of the Ziqu River, a tributary of the Zaqu River (upper Mekong River). Finally we arrived at the forest station, Jiangxi Forest Management Area (32.076777, 97.009417), just a valley away from Tibet.

At the gate, the friendly Tibetan guard asked us what we wanted to seek there. “Birds,” Elaine said. “Birds? You won’t find many,” he said, and let us in.

In Jiangxi Village we camped on the grounds of an institution called the “City of Yushu Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School” (32.076395, 97.063995). There, students, under the tutelage of two monks, study Buddhist-style painting. Their works are beautiful, the students are polite, and the kangbo (monks) are wise and kind. The school is an outpost of civilization in the wilderness.

We were befriended by Genqiu (根秋), a student from Kangding, Sichuan. We taught him English; he revealed to us his dream of going to the United States to see his cousin.

This is an example of the beautiful artwork being produced by the students at the Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School in Jiangxi Village, Nangqian County. The detail here is amazing. Genqiu told us that if even the slightest mistake is detected, then no matter how far along the painting is, the canvas will be discarded and the painter made to start again.
This is an example of the beautiful artwork being produced by the students at the Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School in Jiangxi Village, Nangqian County. The detail here is amazing. Genqiu told us that if even the slightest mistake is detected, then no matter how far along the painting is, the canvas will be discarded and the painter made to start again.

Genqiu took us to the studio, where 20 students were painting a wall-sized canvas that will take months to complete while one of the kangbo chanted Buddhist prayers. Later, Genqiu and his master showed us sacred paintings worth thousands of yuan. I felt I had been plugged into a Matrix, a beautiful, higher world of art, order, and peace.

On 16 July the school was visited by a huofo (活佛, “living Buddha”). The huofo smiled at me and said, “America.” Genqiu said, “I have been at this school for three years and had never seen a huofo. You have been here one day and already seen a huofo.”

We drove through the gorge. The school is at elev. 3680 m; we rose to 4000 m. As we ascended, farms and settlements grew farther apart, and the locals started telling us of attacks by Brown Bear. At first we thought the folks were telling tall tales, but we kept hearing the same story–that a local man had been mauled and had to be taken to Xining for treatment. On 17 July, as we were driving back to Yushu, we met a man who showed us the damage two Brown Bear caused when they broke into his farm.

Craig gets advice on bears from local Tibetan men, Jiangxi Village, 16 July 2016. Photo by Jan-Erik Nilsén.
Craig gets advice on bears from local Tibetan men, Jiangxi Village, 16 July 2016. Photo by Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Needless to say, the bear reports aroused our curiosity, and we scanned slopes and ridges looking for the powerful mammal. We found none, but our search bore fruit with good views of Sichuan Deer (Cervus canadensis macneilli) and at dusk a distant view of White Eared Pheasant.

The steep valleys around Jiangxi Forest Management Area and the Ziqu River gave us a rare Qinghai record of Japanese Tit as well as Black Kite, Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Sichuan Tit, Long-tailed Minivet, Giant Laughingthrush, Tibetan Babax, and Dark-sided Flycatcher.

Common Rosefinch near Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School. Elev. 3680 m. 16 July 2016.
Common Rosefinch near Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School. Elev. 3680 m. 16 July 2016.

On the grounds of the school, birds roamed freely and fearlessly. Large-billed Crow cawed throughout the day, Elliot’s Laughingthrush were ubiquitous, Kessler’s Thrush used the lawns, and Slaty-backed Flycatcher called from the copses. There were three species of pigeon: Snow Pigeon, Hill Pigeon, and Oriental Turtle Dove. The trill of Pink-rumped Rosefinch was commonly heard, and Hodgson’s Redstart and White-throated Redstart were the two main representatives of Phoenicurus. Salim Ali’s Swift and Crag Martin were in the area, and we noted Red-rumped Swallow.

Jan-Erik and I paid special attention to leaf warblers. We found Yellow-streaked Warbler, Buff-barred Warbler, Sichuan Leaf Warbler, and Greenish Warbler and have an unconfirmed record of Claudia’s Leaf Warbler. I sound-recorded Sichuan Leaf Warbler:

Sichuan Leaf Warbler, trill, Jiangxi Forest Management Area, 16 July 2016 (00:25; 1.8 MB)

After staying two nights at the school, on 17 July we returned to Yushu (Jiegu) via Xiao Sumang Xiang and the X308. En route we found a pair of White-winged Grosbeak. The scrub on either side of Dagela Pass held White-tailed Rubythroat, Blue-fronted Redstart, Robin Accentor, Brown Accentor, and Streaked Rosefinch. Tiny pools held Ruddy Shelduck, all the White Wagtail we saw were of the ninja-masked ssp. alboides, and breeding-yellow Citrine Wagtail looked like drops of sunshine on the green pastures.

We spent the night of 17-18 July at Yùshù Kōnggǎng Jiǔdiàn (玉树空港酒店; +86 [0] 976-7800777). This hotel is a good choice for birders needing a rest after days birding at high altitude. The restaurant is good and the shower in your room is separated from the rest of the bathroom. We paid 320 yuan per night.

List of Place Names

Dagela Pass (Dàgélā Shān [大格拉山]): ridge dividing Yangtze & Mekong river systems in Yushu Prefecture. Reachable via X308. Elev.: 4752 m (15,587 ft.). 32.514573, 97.209993.

Gyêgu: see Jiegu.

Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School (Yùshù Shì Jiāngxī Huìmù Zhíyè Péixùn Xuéxiào [玉树市江西惠牧职业培训学校]): institution specializing in teaching the art of Buddhist-style painting. Near Jiangxi Forest Management Area in Nangqian County. Elev. 3680 m (12,070 ft.). Ca. 32.075943, 97.074013.

Jiangxi Forest Management Area (Jiāngxī Línchǎng [江西林场]): forestry center & series of villages (“Jiangxi Village”), Nangqian County. Ca. 32.066633, 97.010842.

Jiegu (Jiégǔ Zhèn [结古镇]): urbanized area E Yushu County, seat of Yushu County & Yushu Prefecture. Pop.: 56,800. Elev.: 3700 m (12,140 ft.). Commonly referred to as Yushu. 33.002242, 96.978488.

Kanda Gorge: see Kanda Mountains.

Kanda Mountains (Kǎndá Shān [坎达山]): high country Nangqian County. Elev. at mouth of Kanda Gorge, near Zaqu River: 3670 m (12,040 ft.) Elev. Kanda Pass: 4680 m (15,350 ft.). Junction of G214 & road leading to Kanda Mountains: 32.315911, 96.454165. Mouth of Kanda Gorge: 32.277059, 96.485171. Kanda Pass: 32.314561, 96.624807.

Kanda Nunnery: religious institution Kanda Gorge. Reliable site for Tibetan Partridge & Tibetan Babax. Elev. 3910 m (12.830 ft.). 32.291641, 96.512173.

Kanda Pass: see Kanda Mountains.

Maozhuang (Máozhuāng Xiāng [毛庄乡]): village Nangqian County. 32.266550, 96.824579.

Nangqên County: see Nangqian County.

Nangqian (Nángqiān [囊谦]): word that can be used for Nangqian County & especially for Xiangda.

Nangqian County (Nángqiān Xiàn [囊谦县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Yushu Prefecture. Area: 11,539 sq. km (4,455 sq. mi.). Pop: 57,000. Contains southernmost point in Qinghai & borders Tibet. Once semi-independent kingdom. Also known as Nangqên County.

 

Map of Qinghai showing the eight prefecture-level divisions. With just 5.6 million inhabitants in an area larger than Texas, Qinghai is a vast, sparsely populated province. Map courtesy Wikipedia.
Map of Qinghai showing the eight prefecture-level divisions. With just 5.6 million inhabitants in an area larger than Texas, Qinghai is a vast, sparsely populated province. Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Qinghai (Qīnghǎi Shěng [青海省]): province NW China. Area: 720,000 sq. km (278,000 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): three times larger than United Kingdom; slightly larger than Texas. Pop.: 5.6 million.

Xiao Sumang Xiang (Xiǎo Sūmǎng Xiāng [小苏莽乡]): village Yushu County near Qinghai-Tibet border. 32.347744, 97.252561.

Xiangda (Xiāngdá Zhèn [香达镇]): town EC Nangqian County. Commonly referred to as Nangqian.

Yushu Batang Airport (Yùshù Bātáng Jīchǎng [玉树巴塘机场]): airport Yushu Prefecture 18 km S of Yushu (Jiegu). Elev. 3890 m (12,760 ft.). One of the highest civilian airports in the world. 32.824982, 97.124989.

Yushu (Yùshù [玉树]): word that can be used to refer to Yushu Prefecture, to Yushu County, or most commonly to Jiegu.

Yushu County (Yùshù Shì [玉树市]): sub-prefectural administrative area Yushu Prefecture. County seat: Yushu (Jiegu). Area: 13,462 sq. km (5,198 sq. mi.). Pop.: 120,447.

 

Map of Qinghai showing Yushu Prefecture in yellow and Yushu County in pink. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Map of Qinghai showing Yushu Prefecture in yellow and Yushu County in pink. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Yushu Prefecture (Yùshù Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [玉树藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area Qinghai. Area: 188,794 sq. km (72,894 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): half the size of Germany; slightly larger than North Dakota. Second-largest prefecture in Qinghai. Covers most of S Qinghai. Pop.: 296,000. Prefectural seat: Yushu (Jiegu). Full name: Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Zaqu River (Zāqū [扎曲]): name for upper reaches of Mekong River in Qinghai.

Ziqu River near Jiangxi Forest Management Area, 15 July 2016. Note the rich conifer forests in this wetter, greener area of Qinghai.
Ziqu River near Jiangxi Forest Management Area, 15 July 2016. Note the rich conifer forests in this wetter, greener area of Qinghai.

Ziqu River (Ziqū [子曲]): tributary of Zaqu River. Flows through Nangqian County.

Featured image: Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur feels its way down a rock face along the G214 near Shanglaxiu, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai, China, 14 July 2016. Elev. 4300 m. Photo by Craig Brelsford using Nikon D3S + Nikon VR 600mm F/4G. F/5, 1/1000, ISO 1250, hand-held.