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 strong 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 offers 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.

Loons Near Pudong Airport

Black-throated Loon and Red-throated Loon have been found at a little-birded recreational area in Pudong, and Slaty-backed Gull has appeared on the Huangpu River across from the Bund. All three species are rare in Earth’s Greatest City, with Black-throated Loon the scarcest. All three were brought to light by Shanghai birders using social media.

Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata, Sanjiagang Water Park, March 2017. Photo by Kai Pflug.
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata, Sanjiagang Seaside Park (31.217928, 121.768172). Photo by Kai Pflug. On Sun. 19 March 2017, a day after Michael Grunwell and I viewed it, this loon was discovered dead at the water park. It may have been a victim of poisoning through the ingestion of oil that had collected on its feathers.

The loons had been sighted numerous times before my partner Michael Grunwell and I arrived on Sat. 18 March 2017 at Sanjiagang Seaside Park (31.217928, 121.768172). The dilapidated recreation area is on the coast of the East China Sea, near the mouth of the Yangtze River, 9 km north of Pudong Airport. Chinese birders discovered the loons, and birder Larry Chen, his partners Komatsu Yasuhiko and Archie Jiang, and bird photographer Kai Pflug followed up, reporting back to our chat group, Shanghai Birding.

On Sun. 19 March, the Red-throated Loon was discovered dead at the park by local birder Suōyǔ Hè (蓑羽鹤). It is not clear what killed the bird, but it may have slowly poisoned itself by ingesting oil that had collected on its feathers. Larry said that during his encounters with the individual “The loon was constantly attempting to preen itself” and that he clearly saw oil on one of its flanks. Can you detect anything amiss in the video below?

Red-throated Loon breeds at latitudes above 50 degrees in Eurasia and North America. Wintering Gavia stellata is more common in Shanghai than Black-throated Loon, being recorded annually here. Michael, my wife Elaine Du, and I found Red-throated Loon at Cape Nanhui in January 2016.

The feet of loons are placed far back on their body. Their resulting ungainliness on land is obvious even on a resting loon, as here. Laotieshan, Liaoning, 18 Sept. 2013. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
The feet of loons are placed far back on the bulky body, making loons powerful divers and clumsy walkers. Note the dagger-like bill, elongated head, and thick neck, characteristic of all five species in the loon family Gaviidae. I found this Black-throated Loon on 18 Sept. 2013 at Laotieshan, Liaoning (38.730483, 121.134018).

Black-throated Loon is also known as Black-throated Diver and Arctic Loon. Gavia arctica breeds across northern Eurasia and into Alaska. It is an uncommon winter visitor all along the coast of China and is very rarely noted in Shanghai, with the last previous record in 2012. Before the encounter Saturday, I had seen Black-throated Loon only once, on 18 Sept. 2013 at Laotieshan (38.730483, 121.134018) in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Here is video of Black-throated Loon at Sanjiagang Seaside Park.

GULLING WITH BIRDERS IN MY POCKET

Michael Grunwell viewing gulls on Huangpu River, 18 March 2017. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Michael Grunwell views gulls Saturday at Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863). Craig Brelsford.

On Sat. 18 March at Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863), with the Pudong skyline looming behind, Michael Grunwell and I scanned the gulls on the Huangpu River.

“I think we’ve found Slaty-backed!” Michael cried.

With my iPhone I took photos of the gull through my scope and uploaded the photos to Shanghai Birding, the chat group I manage on the instant-messaging application WeChat. Within minutes the experts in my pocket started weighing in. Shenzhen birder Jonathan Martinez and Larry Chen, both strong gullers, confirmed Michael’s ID. Michael and I had a life bird!

By its second winter, Slaty-backed Gull (C) shows a mantle darker than that of all other gulls in our region. Note the contrast in mantle color between Larus schistisagus and the adult Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus surrounding it. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6 and PhoneSkope adapter attached to my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope.
By its second winter, Slaty-backed Gull (C) shows a saddle a darker shade of grey than that of all other gulls in East Asia. Note here the contrast between the slate-grey of Larus schistisagus (top inset) and the lighter grey of the other gulls, all adult Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus (bottom inset). UPDATE, 18 APR 2017: In a guest post for shanghaibirding.com about the Widespread Herring-type Gulls of East Asia, Nial Moores says the gull far L is Taimyr Gull L. (heuglini) taimyrensis. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6 and PhoneSkope adapter attached to Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope.

Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus breeds on islands and cliffs on the coast of the Russian Far East (particularly the Kamchatka Peninsula) as well as Hokkaido. Wintering Slaty-backed are common in Japan, less common in northern coastal China, and rare in Shanghai.

Slaty-backed Gull, 2nd winter, Huangpu River, Shanghai 18 March 2017.
Slaty-backed Gull, Shanghai. Note the angular head, stout bill, and short, thick, bubblegum-pink legs. Craig Brelsford.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.

JOIN US ON SHANGHAI BIRDING

You too can join Shanghai Birding. In WeChat, search in New Friends for  “craigbrelsford.” I’ll accept your friend request and add you to the group.

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to this Web site. Just fill out the form in the sidebar. You will be notified every time I post, and you can opt out at any time.

With these two absolutely free resources, you will have the equivalent of a daily newspaper (Shanghai Birding) and weekly news-magazine (shanghaibirding.com) dedicated to birding in the great city of Shanghai.

Day Lists
Lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 18 March 2017 (7 species)

Vega/Mongolian Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus, Binjiang Park (31.240195, 121.490717), Shanghai, China, 18 March 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com)
Mongolian Gull Larus vegae mongolicus, Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863), 18 March. Tag says ‘AL 62.’ I am looking into the origin of the tag and will update this post when I get more information. This is yet another photo taken with my iPhone 6 + PhoneSkope + Swarovski ATX-95. UPDATE, 22 MAR 2017: Thank you to Nial Moores from Birds Korea for showing me this page about a wing-tagging program for gulls from 2004 in northeastern Mongolia. It is highly possible that the gull above is part of that program. UPDATE, 24 MAR 2017: Gull researcher Andreas Buchheim has written me saying that he himself ringed gull AL 62 on 27 May 2013 at Telmen Lake (48.8, 97.25) in NW Mongolia. Telmen Lake is 2,820 km (1,752 miles) from Shanghai’s Binjiang Park. Buchheim said that when he ringed AL 62, it was already an adult. This means that AL 62 hatched no later than spring 2010 and that the youngest it could be is nearly 7 years old. All large, white-headed gulls breeding in Mongolia, Buchheim said, are mongolicus. Regarding our mongolicus, Nial Moores from Birds Korea said, ‘This individual shows more obvious yellowish tones to the legs than most/any we see here in Korea (where they are invariably pinkish-legged). It is known that some Mongolians on the breeding grounds have yellowish tones to the legs–so perhaps this difference between birds in Shanghai and Korea is to do with hormonal condition pre-migration. It tends to be several degrees colder in Korea than in Shanghai on the same dates, of course.’

Birds noted at Binjiang Park (Bīnjiāng Gōngyuán [滨江公园], (31.2356935, 121.4973863), small urban park on Huangpu River in Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Overcast; low 10° C, high 13° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 91 (moderate). Sunrise 06:00, sunset 18:04. SAT 18 MAR 2017 11:00-12:45. Craig Brelsford & Michael Grunwell.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 50
Mongolian Gull Larus vegae mongolicus 1 w. tags & band
Vega/Mongolian Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus 149
Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus heuglini 3
Slaty-backed Gull L. schistisagus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 15

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 18 March 2017 (22 species)

Shanghai Birder KaneXu (L), and Michael Grunwell share a laugh after discovering that they both own the same model of camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900S.
Shanghai birders KaneXu (L) and Michael Grunwell share a laugh after discovering that they own the same camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900S. The two were at Sanjiagang Seaside Park on 18 March. When it comes to compact cameras, Nikon and other manufacturers are feeling the heat from smartphones. They know that consumers are turning away from compact cameras because the cameras in smartphones are now so good. They are therefore loading up compact cameras such as the P900S with plenty of power and pricing them competitively. KaneXu and Michael are getting great stills as well as video with their new cameras. Photo by Craig Brelsford.

Birds noted at Sanjiagang Seaside Park (Sānjiǎgǎng Hǎibīn Lèyuán [三甲港海滨乐园]; 31.217928, 121.768172), Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Overcast; low 10° C, high 13° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 91 (moderate). Sunrise 06:00, sunset 18:04. SAT 18 MAR 2017 14:15-16:45. Craig Brelsford & Michael Grunwell.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 40
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata 1
Black-throated Loon G. arctica 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 50
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 5
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 75
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 60
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 7
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 25
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 15
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2 (1 singing)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 40
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 20
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 5
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 7
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 7

Featured image: Black-throated Loon Gavia arctica, Laotieshan, Liaoning, China, 18 Sept. 2013. Photo by Craig Brelsford using Nikon D3S and Nikkor 600mm F/4 lens. 1/800, F/14, ISO 1600. I was just 7.1 m from the loon, lying on my belly on the rocky shore.

The Case for Conserving Nanhui

Editor’s note: Do you like the view above? Reed beds indeed have a special allure. This tranquil scene is from Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), home of Reed Parrotbill and dozens of other species, and part of the large reed beds on the Dazhi River at Cape Nanhui. In the face of manic development, and in spite of being under no protection, Cape Nanhui conserves the best reed beds on the Shanghai Peninsula as well as mudflats critical to tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds. To save these treasures, Shanghai people must act now.

Who will save Cape Nanhui? Not foreigners like me, but the people of Shanghai. We foreigners are numerous in Shanghai and are disproportionately represented among the birders here. We can offer valuable perspectives. But if the people of Shanghai themselves do not wish to ensure a bright natural future for Cape Nanhui, then there is little that anyone can do.

I happen to think that the people of Shanghai are ready for real conservation on the Shanghai mainland. Basic conservationist ideas have broad appeal, and an easily accessible, world-class, “people’s wetland reserve” at Cape Nanhui is a basic conservationist idea.

If I were Chinese and were arguing for a people’s wetland reserve for Cape Nanhui, then I would bring to light the following points.

SHANGHAI IS NOT A CITY IN THE CONVENTIONAL SENSE

The largest component of the city-province of Shanghai is the Shanghai Peninsula, a projection of land between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the peninsula, is a critically important stop for migrating birds, and is completely unprotected. A nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a third ‘stepping stone’ for birds crossing the Yangtze Delta, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha. Photo by NASA, customized by Craig Brelsford.
The largest component of the city-province of Shanghai is the Shanghai Peninsula, a projection of land between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the peninsula, is a critically important stop for migrating birds, and is completely unprotected. A nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a third ‘stepping stone’ for birds crossing the mouth of the Yangtze, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha. Photo by NASA, customized by Craig Brelsford.

Shanghai “市” isn’t really a city or a “municipality,” as 市 is often translated. It is a city-province, accountable to no government but the national government. The city-province is vast, covering an area greater than the U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island. Shanghai is twice as big as Luxembourg, half as large as Northern Ireland, and a third the size of Wales.

From a conservationist’s perspective, it is important to view Shanghai as a province and not a city, because cities are not usually thought of as being responsible for maintaining large nature reserves within their borders. Provinces, by contrast, are large enough to accommodate nature reserves.

I propose that, where workable, we stop referring to Shanghai as a city or municipality and start applying to it the more accurate label of city-province.

SHANGHAI OCCUPIES LAND UNUSUALLY IMPORTANT TO CONSERVATION

Reed Parrotbill. Far left: Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, May 2010. Upper middle: Yangkou, October 2010. Bottom middle and far right: Nanhui, Shanghai, May 2016.
Reed Parrotbill is a a symbol of Shanghai and candidate for Shanghai Provincial Bird. Nowhere do the people of Shanghai have a better chance of seeing this Near Threatened species than in the reed beds at Cape Nanhui. Protection of the reed beds at Cape Nanhui would send a message to the world that Shanghai takes conservation seriously. Photos by Craig Brelsford.

Any jurisdiction covering an area the size of a small country would be expected to conserve substantial amounts of its area. In the case of Shanghai, the call to conserve is even louder, because the area it occupies is unusually important for conservation. The Shanghai Peninsula is situated between the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and Hangzhou Bay. It is on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and attracts tens of thousands of passage migrants representing a few hundred species.

Cape Nanhui is the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula and attracts passage migrants and winter visitors such as the Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Its large reed beds are the final stronghold on the Shanghai Peninsula of Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill, a candidate for Shanghai Provincial Bird, as well as Near Threatened Marsh Grassbird.

An abandoned sign about Ruddy Turnstone has been turned into a wall by a fisherman for his shack in the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui. 9 Nov. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
An abandoned sign about Ruddy Turnstone has been turned into a wall by a fisherman for his shack in the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui. Craig Brelsford.

Cape Nanhui is completely unprotected; indeed, an attempt at a small wetland reserve has been shut down. The boardwalks and signs of the defunct reserve are crumbling, and the backhoes are standing by, waiting for the green light to smash what remains.

SHANGHAI, AN ENVIRONMENTAL UNDER-PERFORMER

No one is saying that Shanghai, a city-province of 26 million people, needs to create a Yellowstone. Any reasonable person understands the pressures the huge population of Shanghai puts on its natural resources.

Also, it must be pointed out that in the far-flung areas of the city-province, Shanghai has made an attempt at conservation. Chongming Dongtan preserves the eastern nub of Chongming Island, and Jiuduansha covers intertidal shoals near Pudong Airport.

Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Nanhui, Shanghai, 10 April 2016.
Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Cape Nanhui, 10 April 2016. The reed bed over which this grassbird was displaying is the largest at Cape Nanhui. It measures 1.4 sq. km and has its center at 30.876060, 121.945305. This reed bed is one of the last places on the Shanghai Peninsula where the song flight of Marsh Grassbird can be seen. Craig Brelsford.

But Shanghai under-performs overall. Nowhere is the poor conservation performance more evident than in Pudong, the coastal city-within-a-city. Pudong is nearly double the size of Singapore and is half the size of Hong Kong. Yet the district contains zero wetland reserves on its mainland. Both Singapore and Hong Kong manage to hold in reserve significant portions of their territory.

The southeastern tip of Pudong is Cape Nanhui, a place that despite being under no protection still brims with natural treasures. No place on the Shanghai Peninsula has as many reed beds. The projection of land attracts birds making the long journey across Hangzhou Bay and the wide mouth of the Yangtze.

Moreover, Cape Nanhui is easily accessible to common people. It would be the perfect place for a world-class wetland reserve on the model of Sungei Buloh in Singapore and Yeyahu National Wetland Park in Beijing.

MORE INFORMATION

Craig talks to Pudong TV about the opportunities for conservation at Nanhui. Photo by Elaine Du.
On 12 Nov. 2016 I was interviewed by Pudong TV about the opportunities for conservation at Nanhui. Later this month, Pudong TV plans to do a more extensive interview with me. UPDATE, 24 DEC 2016: Video of interview here. Photo by Elaine Du.

Later this month I will be doing an interview with Pudong TV about saving Cape Nanhui. I will let you know how it goes. UPDATE, 24 DEC 2016: Video of interview here.

On shanghaibirding.com I have addressed the issue of conserving Nanhui:

Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve! (cri de coeur plus call to action)
Remnants (preparation for probable demise of Cape Nanhui)
Reed Parrotbill, Symbol of Shanghai (naming Reed Parrotbill Provincial Bird of Shanghai will send a message about the importance of the reed beds such as those at Cape Nanhui)
Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Nanhui (proof of yet another endangered species using the defunct wetland reserve at Nanhui)
Will the Spoon Survive? (Nanhui is not the only area under threat. You ought to see the mess at Yangkou, Jiangsu. Conserving Nanhui will offset the losses elsewhere on the Chinese coast and will put a conservationist feather in Shanghai’s cap)
Meet Kai Pflug, Nanhui’s Mr. Clean (tribute to a birder doing his small part)

NEXT STEPS

We foreigners have had much to say about the future of Nanhui. I would like to hear more from Chinese. Is the case for a world-class wetland reserve at Nanhui convincing to you? If so, then what do you propose to do to bring it about?

THE GRAND SHANGHAI TOUR

Siberian Crane at the newly reclaimed extension of Hengsha Island, Nov. 2016.
Siberian Crane at the newly reclaimed extension of Hengsha Island, 29 Nov. 2016. The cranes have been at this spot (31.321708, 122.018141) since at least 12 Nov. 2016. It is not known exactly what drew the cranes to Hengsha. Disturbances at Lake Poyang, the wintering location of nearly every member of the species, may be a factor. Since 2000 Grus leucogeranus has been listed as Critically Endangered. Only about 3750 individuals remain. Photo by Craig Brelsford.

Elaine Du and I birded five of the eight days from Thurs. 24 Nov. through Thurs. 1 Dec. 2016. We noted 119 species. We did the Shanghai Grand Tour, covering Zhongshan Park, a small, inner-city park; Binjiang Forest Park and Binhai Forest Park, large, suburban parks; the coastal areas at Cape Nanhui; Hengsha Island; and Chongming Island. We birded one of the days with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and two days with Phil Birch.

We had 3 Siberian Crane and 8 Mandarin Duck on Hengsha, 98 Hooded Crane at their normal wintering spot on Chongming Island, 5 Baikal Teal and Japanese Grosbeak at Cape Nanhui, and 51 Swan Goose at Nanhui and on Chongming. Black-faced Spoonbill were present in diminished numbers at Nanhui and on Hengsha.

Nanhui gave us Common Shelduck, Greater Scaup, Black-necked Grebe at Dishui Lake, and Brown-cheeked Rail near Iron Track. Eurasian Curlew were foraging on mud near 3 Black-tailed Godwit and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. At a high-tide roost in the defunct nature reserve, a single late Red-necked Stint stood out among 600 Dunlin. We found 2 Bluethroat at a new location north of the Dazhi River. Reed Parrotbill maintained their regular presence around Iron Track, and we found 4 Rustic Bunting at Binhai Forest Park, 4 km inland from the coastal birding areas at Nanhui.

Bluethroat, scarce winter visitor to Shanghai.
Bluethroat, scarce winter visitor to Shanghai, 27 Nov. 2016. Craig Brelsford.

Hensgha also gave us Common Merganser, late Intermediate Egret, 2 Hair-crested Drongo, and 1 of our 2 Chinese Grey Shrike (the other was at Nanhui). Chongming yielded 3 Common Crane with the Hooded Crane as well as Northern Lapwing, 3 juv. Rook, and 35 Lapland Longspur.

Binjiang Forest Park added to our list Great Spotted Woodpecker, a species that in Shanghai’s parks is reliable only at Binjiang and Century Park. We had 3 Hawfinch, Collared Finchbill, and 3 Naumann’s Thrush.

NOTES

— In recent days at its special site (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, Yellow-breasted Bunting was not found on two occasions. We found it there six times throughout most of November.

Yellow-throated Bunting and most other woodland birds were absent from the Cape Nanhui microforests. The leaves of the locust trees in the microforests have fallen, the undergrowth has died off, and the woodsy feel has faded even at large Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083). Eurasian Tree Sparrow have invaded some of the microforests. We found Pallas’s Reed Bunting in Microforest 4 but neither Red-flanked Bluetail nor White’s Thrush.

Comparison of adult-male Chinese Grosbeak (bottom L) and Japanese Grosbeak (all others). Craig Brelsford.
Comparison of adult-male Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria (bottom L) and adult-male Japanese Grosbeak E. personata (all others). The half-hood and completely yellow beak of male Japanese are easily recognizable features and contrast with the full hood and black-tipped bill of Chinese. The wing of Chinese (bottom L) shows a larger white patch on the primaries as well as white tips. Secondaries and tertials are fringed white. Japanese (middle L) shows only a simple white patch on otherwise blue-black primaries. Thrush-sized Japanese is also 20 percent larger than Chinese. Chinese Grosbeak is present year-round in Shanghai and even breeds in inner-city parks. Japanese Grosbeak is an uncommon passage migrant. Bottom L: Wusong Paotaiwan Park, Shanghai, 19 Sept. 2009. Others Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2016. All by Craig Brelsford.

Japanese Grosbeak found in Magic Parking Lot 28 Nov. provided my longest and best view ever of the species. I appreciated its large size, like a thrush; I noted its half-hood and completely yellow bill; and I observed its single white spot on the primaries.

HOW WE DO HENGSHA

On the chat group Shanghai Birding, the WeChat companion to shanghaibirding.com, members trade sightings and ask each other questions. To join, go to our Sightings page and fill out the form.

Recently on Shanghai Birding, I was asked how I prefer to cover Hengsha Island. Here is my response:

(1) I prefer to arrive at Hengsha the night before. Ferries run until about 20:00.

(2) I spend the night at a bed-and-breakfast near the reclaimed area. Elaine and I like Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿), +86 150-2164-5467, +86 135-0185-1814, no English.

(3) Next day, get into reclaimed area before dawn. (Guards man the gate at 08:00 and will bar your entry.)

(4) Bird reclaimed area until about 10:00, then return to ferry terminal.

We have followed this procedure several times. The ferry has never been crowded in the evening and has never been crowded the next forenoon. By contrast, I have never sailed through when attempting to get the 07:00 or 07:30 ferry. The line has always been long.

Besides saving time waiting in line, an advantage to spending the night on Hengsha is that one gets more sleep. You are fresher the next morning, and you are in the reclaimed area earlier.

Day Lists
Lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 24 Nov. 2016 (11 species)

Photo by Mr. Wang.
On 24 Nov. 2016, I was standing beside Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣) when he got this shot of an adult-male Eyebrowed Thrush. The thrush was drinking from a cavity high in a tree at Zhongshan Park. In recent days, seven species of thrush have been recorded around the Little Central Pond in the 102-year-old park.

Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Changning District, Shanghai. Mostly cloudy. Low 3° C, high 9° C. Humidity 58%. Visibility 10 km. Wind N 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 134 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:30, sunset 16:52. THU 24 NOV 2016 15:10-16:45. Craig Brelsford.

Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 20
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 4
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 6
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 8
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 27 Nov. 2016 (71 species)

Views of Buff-bellied Pipit in flight. Top 2: 12 Nov. 2016. Bottom 3: 27 Nov. 2016. All taken near the reed beds north of Luchao. Craig Brelsford.
Buff-bellied Pipit in flight. Top 2: 12 Nov. 2016. Bottom 3: 27 Nov. 2016. All taken at Marshy Agricultural Land north of Luchao (30.850707, 121.863662). Craig Brelsford.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. We covered the coastal road from Binhai (Bīnhǎi Zhèn [滨海镇]; 31.006250, 121.885558) to Luchao (Lúcháo Gǎng [芦潮港]; 30.851109, 121.848455). Among the points along this 30 km stretch are Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), a site providing access to the reed beds at the mouth of the Dazhi River (Dàzhì Hé [大治河]); Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074); Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083); Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635); Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229); Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551); South Lock (30.860073, 121.909997); Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047); & the Marshy Agricultural Land (30.850707, 121.863662). List does not include Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Sunny. Low 6° C, high 12° C. Humidity 55%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind NNW 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 182 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:33, sunset 16:51. SUN 27 NOV 2016 06:50-16:25. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Swan Goose Anser cygnoides 8
Tundra Bean Goose A. serrirostris 11
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii 20
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 1
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 100
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 200
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 70
Baikal Teal A. formosa 3
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 600
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 92
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 120
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 9
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 130
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 80
Great Egret A. alba 5
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 30
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 5
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 78
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 2
Hen Harrier C. cyaneus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 4
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 7
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 400
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 10
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 8
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 120
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 40
Dunlin Calidris alpina 120
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 4
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 3
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus 202
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 9
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 8
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 32
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 4
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 30
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 6
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 13
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 2
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 5
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 53
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica 2
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 10
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana 30
White Wagtail M. alba 17
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 1
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 140
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 17
Little Bunting E. pusilla 6
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 10
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 17

List 1 of 2 for Mon. 28 Nov. 2016 (76 species)

Eurasian Hoopoe, sea wall at Cape Nanhui, 27 Nov. 2016. Also seen nearby the following day. Craig Brelsford.
Eurasian Hoopoe, sea wall at Cape Nanhui, 27 Nov. 2016. Craig Brelsford.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. We covered the coastal road from Binhai (Bīnhǎi Zhèn [滨海镇]; 31.006250, 121.885558) to Luchao (Lúcháo Gǎng [芦潮港]; 30.851109, 121.848455). Among the points along this 30 km stretch are Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), a site providing access to the reed beds at the mouth of the Dazhi River (Dàzhì Hé [大治河]); Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074); Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083); Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635); Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229); Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551); South Lock (30.860073, 121.909997); Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047); & the Marshy Agricultural Land (30.850707, 121.863662). List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Sunny. Low 6° C, high 13° C. Humidity 57%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind N 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 127 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:34, sunset 16:51. MON 28 NOV 2016 06:15-14:40, 16:00-17:00. Phil Birch, Craig Brelsford, & Elaine Du.

Swan Goose Anser cygnoides 15
Tundra Bean Goose A. serrirostris 11
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii 10
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 25
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 200
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 30
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 50
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 80
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 40
Northern Pintail A. acuta 30
Baikal Teal A. formosa 2
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 150
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 1
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 30
Greater Scaup A. marila 3
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 60
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 10
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 12
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 100
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 70
Great Egret A. alba 20
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 80
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 4
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 6
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 30
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 2
Western Osprey Eurasian Pandion haliaetus 2
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Water/Brown-cheeked Rail R. aquaticus/indicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 150
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 2
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 30
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 100
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 3
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 3
Bar-tailed Godwit L. lapponica 1
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 1
Dunlin C. alpina 600
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 7
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 150
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 12
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 4
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 18
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 4
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1
Falco sp. 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 30
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 6
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 12
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 5
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 8
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 12
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 5
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 60
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 11
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 33
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 14
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana 8
White Wagtail M. alba 20
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens 8
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 1
Japanese Grosbeak Eophona personata 1
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 8
Little Bunting E. pusilla 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 8
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2

List 2 of 2 for Mon. 28 Nov. 2016 (19 species). Shanghai Binhai Forest Park (Shànghǎi Bīnhǎi Sēnlín Gōngyuán [上海滨海森林公园]; 30.966324, 121.910289), a green space in Pudong, Shanghai, China. Sunny. Low 6° C, high 13° C. Humidity 57%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind N 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 127 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:34, sunset 16:51. MON 28 NOV 2016 14:40-16:00. Phil Birch, Craig Brelsford, & Elaine Du.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 5
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 6
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 7
Japanese Tit Parus minor 1
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 3
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 8
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 20
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 5
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens 1
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 2
Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica 4
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3

List 1 of 3 for Tues. 29 Nov. 2016 (46 species)

Eastern Marsh Harrier, Hengsha. Craig Brelsford.
Eastern Marsh Harrier, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2016. Craig Brelsford.

Birds noted on Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to reclaimed area at 31.298821, 121.854439. Cloudy. Low 7° C, high 13° C. Humidity 67%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind ENE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 53 (moderate). Sunrise 06:34, sunset 16:51. TUE 29 NOV 2016 06:20-09:40. Phil Birch, Craig Brelsford, & Elaine Du.

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata 8
Gadwall Anas strepera 40
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 5
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 15
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 4
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 50
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 15
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 35
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 30
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 6
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 13
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 3
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Water/Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus aquaticus/indicus 1
Brown-cheeked Rail R. indicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 15
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 6
Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus 3
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 14
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 12
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 8
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 2
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 1
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark A. arvensis/gulgula 6
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 5
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 6
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 12
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 25
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 2
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 6
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 25
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 5
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens 12
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 1

List 2 of 3 for Tues. 29 Nov. 2016 (35 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 District, Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Cloudy. Low 7° C, high 13° C. Humidity 67%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind ENE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 53 (moderate). Sunrise 06:34, sunset 16:51. TUE 29 NOV 2016 11:10-13:05. Phil Birch, Craig Brelsford, & Elaine Du.

Swan Goose Anser cygnoides 28
Tundra Bean Goose A. serrirostris 30
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii 5
Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 100
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 7
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 60
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Great Egret A. alba 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 10
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 1
Common Crane Grus grus 3
Hooded Crane G. monacha 98
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 50
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 10
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 2
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 30
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 4
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 8
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 20
Rook Corvus frugilegus 3
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 3
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 10
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 2
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 12
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 4
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 1
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 400
Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus 35

List 3 of 3 for Tues. 29 Nov. 2016 (25 species). Binjiang Forest Park, Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China (31.383916, 121.523818). Cloudy. Low 7° C, high 13° C. Humidity 67%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind ENE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 53 (moderate). Sunrise 06:34, sunset 16:51. TUE 29 NOV 2016 14:30-16:00. Phil Birch, Craig Brelsford, & Elaine Du.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 1
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 10
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 5
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 4
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 1
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 2
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 3
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 3
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 20
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 18
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 35
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 7
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 11
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 10
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 3
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 2
Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans 2

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 1 Dec. 2016 (9 species)

Panorama of Little Central Pond, Zhongshan Park, 1 Dec. 2016. Thrushes are drawn to the berry-laden trees on either side of the pond. The photographer to the left is Wāng Jīnlóng (汪金龙), a mainstay at Zhongshan Park and a source of information about the birds there. Craig Brelsford.
Panorama of Little Central Pond, Zhongshan Park, 1 Dec. 2016. Thrushes are drawn to the berry-laden trees on either side of the pond. Currently, seven species of thrush may be found there: the four listed below plus three missed by us on 1 Dec. (White’s Thrush, Dusky Thrush, and Japanese Thrush). The photographer to the left is Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), a mainstay at Zhongshan Park and a reliable source of information about the birds there. Craig Brelsford.

Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Changning District, Shanghai. Mostly cloudy. Low 9° C, high 14° C. Humidity 57%. Visibility 10 km. Wind N 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 192 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:36, sunset 16:51. THU 01 DEC 2016 15:10-16:15. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 5
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 4
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 3
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 4
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 1

The Shanghai Skua

Found at Nanhui on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016: Pomarine Skua (called Pomarine Jaeger in North America and by the IOC). This first record for Shanghai was discovered by local birder Hé Xīn (何鑫) in the defunct nature reserve 1.4 km inland from the East China Sea. Kai Pflug was also on hand. Hé Xīn and Kai spread the news through our Shanghai Birding WeChat group, and the next day Elaine Du and I found the skua at the same spot (30.921625, 121.958940). The skua stayed four days, until Sat. 22 Oct.

The seabird appeared healthy, alternately feeding, preening, and roosting. Its plumage was shiny, and I saw no evidence of injury. It was a healthy refugee blown west by Typhoon Haima.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Look into the eyes of a predator. For many a lemming on the Arctic breeding grounds, this cold stare is the last sight they will ever see. National Geographic calls Pomarine Skua a ‘bulky brute with a commanding presence … a Rottweiler among the jaegers.’ (Photo by Craig Brelsford.)

As sightings of skuas on the Chinese coast are rare, and because skuas have a bewildering array of plumages, at first there was some confusion about the species of our bird. It soon became clear that the vagrant was either Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus or Arctic Skua (IOC: Parasitic Jaeger) S. parasiticus. But which?

POMARINE ID BASICS

To answer that question, we needed photos, and so on Thurs. 20 Oct. Elaine and I drove to Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Pudong.

We quickly found and photographed the bird. After examining our images, talking to other birders, and studying the books, we determined that it is a pale-morph adult pomarinus in non-breeding plumage. Here’s why:

— S. pomarinus is larger and bulkier than the other jaegers (small skuas), in particular the jaeger that it most resembles, S. parasiticus. The jaeger we found was large and bulky.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus. This heavy-set jaeger appears bulkier before the legs than behind. Note its bull neck, barrel chest, and short tail. Size is about equal to Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris (Brazil). S. parasiticus is equally bulky before and behind the legs, is longer-necked and less pot-bellied, and has a longer tail. (Craig Brelsford)

National Geographic describes pomarinus as a “bulky brute with a commanding presence [and a] thick bull-neck–a Rottweiler among the jaegers.” S. pomarinus, Geographic adds, “is the bulkiest [jaeger] and appears pot-bellied and very deep at the chest. … Often it appears there is more body before the wing than behind the wing.”

The image above is in line with that description. Below, another image illustrating the bulky shape and barrel chest.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
The skua family (Stercorariidae) is monogeneric; all seven species are in the genus Stercorarius. In the United States and Canada, the smallest three Stercorarius are called jaegers, a convention followed by the IOC. The largest of the jaegers is Pomarine, the next-largest is Arctic Skua/Parasitic Jaeger, and the smallest is Long-tailed Skua/Long-tailed Jaeger S. longicaudus. All three jaegers breed on Arctic tundra in Eurasia and North America and winter at sea. All are kleptoparasitic–they steal food from other birds. This habit gives rise to the Chinese name for the family: ‘thief-gull’ (贼鸥). (Craig Brelsford)

In adult pale-morph pomarinus, the black helmet reaches below the gape, and black plumage surrounds the base of the bill. Most pale-morph parasiticus show a white spot at the base of the upper mandible and a less-extensive helmet that does not reach below the gape.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
The Shanghai pomarinus is a pale-morph adult in non-breeding plumage. (Traces of the yellow breeding plumage can be seen here on the cheeks and throat.) Its helmet reaches below the gape, and it lacks a pale spot at the base of the upper mandible. (Craig Brelsford)

Below, another close-up of the head. Note here and above that, unusually for pomarinus, the bill appears almost all-black.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
The Shanghai pomarinus has an unusually dark bill. (Craig Brelsford)

Adult pale-morph pomarinus is more heavily barred than parasiticus. Most adult pale-morph pomarinus show a coarse breast band and dark barring on the flanks. Most adult pale-morph parasiticus show a diffuse greyish-brown breast band and lack barring on the flanks.

skua-pomarine008
Our pomarinus shows broad, coarse barring across the breast and on the flanks. (Craig Brelsford)

There are several other ID points, some of them, such as tail streamers, not visible in The Shanghai Skua. The points discussed above, however, are enough, we think, to clinch the ID.

OTHER PHOTOS

Enjoy these other photos of the rarity.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
When Elaine and I arrived Thursday morning, a Grey Heron was harassing the strange intruder. (Craig Brelsford)

The skua was very tame and performed various functions in its unaccustomed surroundings. It scratched itself (below), bathed, scavenged dead fish, and occasionally took short flights.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Photo by Craig Brelsford

Its most common activity was roosting on the mud bank.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Photo by Craig Brelsford

Kai Pflug got the photo below of the skua with wings upraised. Note the unbarred underwing and pale flash at the base of the primaries, further evidence that the skua is an adult.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 19 Oct. 2016. Photo by Kai Pflug.
Photo taken 19 Oct. 2016 by Kai Pflug.
Compare the images of our non-breeding Pomarine with this shot of an individual in breeding plumage. Photo taken by Daniel Pettersson in Alaska in June 2016.
Compare the images of our non-breeding Pomarine with this shot of an individual in breeding plumage. Photo taken by Daniel Pettersson in Alaska in June 2016.

Hé Xīn (below) found The Shanghai Skua on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016, a historic first record for Shanghai. The next day I met Hé Xīn at the site.

Craig Brelsford (L) and Hé Xīn (何鑫), Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
shanghaibirding.com editor Craig Brelsford (L) and Shanghai Skua discoverer Hé Xīn (何鑫), Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. (Elaine Du)

RARE AUTUMN RECORD OF NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER

On Thurs. 20 Oct. and Sun. 23 Oct. 2016, Elaine Du and I birded Nanhui and the sod farm south of Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). On 23 Oct. Elaine and I were joined by British birder Michael Grunwell. The two days yielded 92 species. After the Pomarine Jaeger, the big news was rare autumn sightings of Narcissus Flycatcher, another record of Nordmann’s Greenshank, and still more evidence that the highly threatened Nanhui wetland is much depended on by Black-faced Spoonbill.

Siberian Thrush, Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016.
Siberian Thrush is a very shy bird. I have noted Geokichla sibirica in Heilongjiang, its breeding grounds, and even in breeding season the bird is hard to see. In these photos, however, taken Sun. 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui, this female Siberian Thrush is conspicuous. Why? Hunger. The migrant is exhausted and must feed. In the top panel, the thrush checks on me, then, almost in spite of itself, it attacks the leaf litter (middle panel). In the bottom panel, we see that the thrush has come up short; only a speck of leaf is in its bill. The thrush spent hours in Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), recharging after the long flight south. Despite their tiny size, the microforests of Nanhui provide forest habitat critical to woodland species such as Siberian Thrush. (Craig Brelsford)

On 20 Oct. in the canal at the base of the sea wall at Nanhui, Elaine and I had 18 Mandarin Duck and 2 season’s first Greater Scaup. On 23 Oct., the Nanhui microforests yielded Eurasian Woodcock, Ashy Minivet, Siberian Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, and season’s first Pale Thrush. A male Siberian Rubythroat popped out of the undergrowth and a Northern Boobook dozed before a crowd of photographers. At the line of trees (30.859995, 121.910061) near South Lock, 6 km south of the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489), we had season’s first Tristram’s Bunting. Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) is attracting ducks again, the most notable Sunday being season’s first Tufted Duck and Common Pochard.

Northern Boobook, one of four we saw on 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui.
Northern Boobook, one of four we saw 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

The sod farm, which we visited Sunday morning, and which lies just off the S32 freeway, was worth the small investment of time required to get there. The grassy area gave us an unusually large (80) group of Red-throated Pipit. In Nanhui, we have been experiencing this species only in fly-by mode, but at the farm dozens of them were feeding on the ground. Michael and I studied the pipits carefully and concluded the group was pure Red-throated; we saw not a single Buff-bellied Pipit.

Ducks are once again gracing the canals and ponds of Nanhui. The most numerous were, as expected, Eastern Spot-billed Duck (285 over the two days) and Eurasian Teal (270 on 23 Oct.). Less numerous was Eurasian Wigeon, and there were sprinklings of Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Garganey.

OTHER NOTES

Narcissus Flycatcher, Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016.
Narcissus Flycatcher, male (top left) and three females, Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016. Every year between about 15 April and 15 May, Narcissus Flycatcher passes through the Shanghai region. It is fairly common during that time but rarely recorded in autumn. One of the most beautiful of Asia’s colorful flycatchers, Ficedula narcissina breeds in Japan and on Sakhalin and the adjacent Russian mainland. It winters in Borneo. (Craig Brelsford)

— Uniquely among the Shanghai region’s passage-migrant flycatchers, most of which appear in roughly equal numbers on both the spring and autumn migrations, Narcissus Flycatcher appears almost exclusively on the spring migration. We were therefore pleasantly surprised Sunday to see the three males and three females. Did Typhoon Haima send them our way? What are the migration patterns of this beautiful flycatcher?

Pink-billed juvenile Black-faced Spoonbill feeds in the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016.
Pink-billed sub-adult Black-faced Spoonbill feeds in Nanhui’s defunct nature reserve (30.920507, 121.973159), 23 Oct. 2016. The spoonbill was surprisingly close to the road, driven there by lack of habitat. Despite the disadvantages of the site, the abandoned reserve remains one of the most hospitable places on the Shanghai coast for spoonbills and many other species. (Craig Brelsford)

— The importance of the Nanhui wetlands–as well as the dangers they face–can hardly be overstated. On 20 Oct. at the skua site, Hé Xīn told me that the defunct wetland in which we were standing would already have been utterly transformed by now had it not been for the intervention of Chinese birders, who secured a one-year delay. Within a radius of a few hundred meters of the skua site stood 24 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and an endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. The dependence of Black-faced Spoonbill on the defunct wetland reserve is obvious and could be demonstrated by a group of high-schoolers doing a science project. Shanghai lies at the mouth of one of Earth’s greatest waterways (the Yangtze River) and is a major point on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway–yet this wealthy city, a world financial center with a rich natural heritage, entirely lacks an easily accessible wetland reserve on its mainland. The one, weak attempt–the defunct Nanhui reserve, with its crumbling buildings, torn-up boardwalk, and rotting signs–stands near the gallows, in the nick of time being given a stay of execution. And yet, even now, the defunct reserve, mismanaged, unloved, and undervalued, even now the place still attracts Class A birds! When, oh when, will the Shanghai government and Shanghai people learn to value at their true worth their spoonbills, greenshanks, and vagrant skuas? When, I ask, will they see as an asset to be cherished, and not a burden to be cast away, the thousands of birds that migrate through Earth’s greatest city? When will the Shanghai people apply their renowned cleverness and skill to protecting, rather than dredging up the home of, the symbol of their city, Reed Parrotbill? When will Shanghai take a cue from Hong Kong and build its own Mai Po? When will it follow the example of Singapore and create its own Sungei Buloh?

Day Lists
Lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 20 Oct. 2016 (56 species)

Mandarin Duck in the rain, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016.
Mandarin Duck in the rain, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Partly cloudy. Low 20° C, high 22° C. Humidity 90%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind E 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 65 (moderate). Sunrise 06:01, sunset 17:15. THU 20 OCT 2016 06:45-17:25. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata 18
Gadwall Anas strepera 2
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 11
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 125
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 6
Garganey A. querquedula 6
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 80
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Great Cormorant Eurasian Phalacrocorax carbo 32
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 150
Great Egret A. alba 45
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 8
Little Egret Western Egretta garzetta 280
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 5
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 24
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 20
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 25
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 25
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 10
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 140
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 130
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer 1
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 36
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 6
Common Redshank T. totanus 2
Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 12
Northern Boobook Ninox japonica 2
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 28
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 4
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 9
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 12
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 2
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 5
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 3
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica 8
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 1
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 1
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 6

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 23 Oct. 2016 (7 species)

Red-throated Pipit, sod farm near Pudong Airport, 23 Oct. 2016.
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus at the sod farm, 23 Oct. 2016. When the red throat is visible (Panel 1), the species is unmistakable. When it is not visible or lacking (2-4), Red-throated Pipit can be distinguished from Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus by the former’s better-defined black streaking on the back and crown and by its whitish mantle stripes. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds noted at sod farm south of Pudong International Airport (31.112586, 121.824742), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Morning drizzle, turning partly cloudy. Low 19° C, high 23° C. Humidity 75%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind NNE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 76 (moderate). Sunrise 06:04, sunset 17:12. SUN 23 OCT 2016 06:50-07:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus  1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago  1
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 15
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3 tschutschensis
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 10 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 6
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 80

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 23 Oct. 2016 (73 species). Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Morning drizzle, turning partly cloudy. Low 19° C, high 23° C. Humidity 75%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind NNE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 76 (moderate). Sunrise 06:04, sunset 17:12. SUN 23 OCT 2016 08:05-16:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 50
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 22
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 160
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 16
Northern Pintail A. acuta 3
Garganey A. querquedula 2
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 270
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 21
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 58
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 20
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 60
Great Egret A. alba 20
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 10
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 150
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 2
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 10
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 8
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 28
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 15
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 36
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 15
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 20
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 40
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 60
Vega Gull Larus vegae vagae/L. v. mongolicus 1
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 1
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 10
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 12
Northern Boobook Ninox japonica 2
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1
Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 8
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 30
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 7
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 12
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 22
Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica 1
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 6
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 2
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica 6
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 5
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 5
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina 6
Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki 8
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 11
White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 150
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 13
White Wagtail M. alba 16
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 8
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 2
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 3
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 6

WORKS CONSULTED
Note: Nearly every major field guide covers skuas, a cosmopolitan family. This is a partial list showing the main works I consulted as I researched Stercorariidae.

Alderfer, Jonathan, ed. National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, 2006. Section “Skuas, Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers” by N.G. Howell and Alvaro Jaramillo. Jaegers, pp. 237-9.

Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
You too can join Shanghai Birding.

Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. News about the sighting of Pomarine Skua was disseminated by Hé Xīn and Kai Pflug through this chat group. To join Shanghai Birding, fill out the form on our Sightings page.

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, 2009. Skuas, pp. 230-3.

Grimmet, Richard & Carol Inskipp & Tim Inskipp. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, 2011. Pomarine Skua and Arctic Skua, p. 182.

Peterson, Roger Tory & Virginia Marie Peterson. Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Jaegers, p. 168.

Svensson, Lars & Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 1999-2009. Skuas, pp. 174-7.