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.

Mayday! Mayday! Singing Pechora Pipit in Shanghai!

Elaine and I noted 112 species over May Day weekend 2016. We did island birding on Lesser Yangshan, coastal birding at Nanhui, and inner-city birding at Zhongshan Park. Highlights were 26 Pechora Pipit, 6 of them singing, plus (Japanese) Yellow Bunting and 2 endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting at Nanhui. Nanhui also gave us 3 Chinese Egret, a rare view of Large Hawk-Cuckoo, endangered Far Eastern Curlew and 4 near-threatened Curlew Sandpiper, and high-value passage migrants such as Chinese Sparrowhawk, Asian Stubtail, Brown-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Chestnut Bunting. Lesser Yangshan yielded 2 Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Greater Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, 18 near-threatened Grey-tailed Tattler, 2 Broad-billed Sandpiper, and Taiga Flycatcher. Seasonal firsts were numerous and included Little Tern, Dusky Warbler, and Black-browed Reed Warbler at Nanhui and Grey-streaked Flycatcher on Lesser Yangshan. On Sat. 30 April and Sun. 1 May we birded with veteran English birder Michael Grunwell.

Pechora Pipit sparring, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This is just one instance of aggressive behavior being displayed by Pechoras. We noted 6 Pechoras singing, and we watched a Pechora drive an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting from a perch.
Pechora Pipit sparring, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This is just one instance of aggressive behavior being displayed by Pechoras. We noted 6 Pechoras singing, and we watched a Pechora drive an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting from a perch.

On Saturday near Microforest 2 at Nanhui, Michael enjoyed his first views of Pechora Pipit in 26 years while Elaine and I enjoyed our second view in a week of this scarce passage migrant. Those views were just a prelude to the excitement of Sunday. Again at Nanhui, driving along the sea-wall road, we began finding Pechoras. Some of them were singing; two of them were sparring. We decided to make a survey of this scarce passage migrant. Driving slowly from the Holiday Inn north, we scanned the thickly vegetated inner base of the sea wall. Thousands of trees have been planted there recently, giving the Pechoras perches and making them easier to see. We counted 26. Here is the song I recorded of Pechora Pipit (00:27; 1.9 MB):

Another view of Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the fine but distinct streaks on the crown and the pinkish bill.
Another view of Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the fine but distinct streaks on the crown and the pinkish bill.

Saturday began with a 4 a.m. pickup of Michael and 90-minute drive to Lesser Yangshan. We went first to Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873). Accidental Marsh is several hectares of newly formed wetland created by the construction of a causeway linking Lesser Yangshan and Dazhitou Island. Besides the waders noted above, we found singing Oriental Reed Warbler, and we rejoiced because for a change we had found a place where the reed-bed habitat of that species is expanding, rather than contracting, as is so often the case on the beleaguered Chinese coast. Another interesting record there was Black-collared Starling, uncommon in the Shanghai region. Moving to Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), we found Black Drongo and the Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover. On the half-destroyed Garbage Dump Coastal Plain next to the Gully, we met a lone Pacific Golden Plover.

Michael Grunwell (L) and Craig Brelsford examining shorebirds on Accidental Mudflat, Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, China, 30 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael Grunwell (L) and Craig Brelsford examining shorebirds on Accidental Mudflat, Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, China, 30 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.

We drove back to the mainland and remained at Nanhui the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday. We noticed once again that the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489) and nearby areas are turning into a circus, especially on holiday weekends. Upwards of 300 cars are parked there at midday, and though the Parking Lot is an effective migrant trap, on weekends in good weather birding the Lot is difficult after 9 a.m.

In light of the new popularity of the Lot as well as the continued flattening of the local reed beds, we are looking for new areas to bird. We found a place we are calling South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106). South Lock is the area around the place where the S2 expressway meets the mainland. A sluice gate is nearby, hence the name. On Saturday, trees at South Lock were holding Eastern Crowned Warbler, a species beloved by Michael, and the adjacent ponds and marshes held waders and buntings and gave us our only weekend record of Grey Wagtail. A stop there on Sunday morning gave us our Dusky Warbler. South Lock looks good and because so near the freeway may remain undeveloped. Another new area for us is South Lawn (midpoint at 30.849840, 121.897953), a stretch of grassy land at the inner base of the sea wall north of Luchao (Lúcháo Gǎng [芦潮港]). There we found flocks of Eastern Yellow Wagtail containing members of the nominate race as well as taivana.

Siberian Blue Robin (female), Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the strong black bill and very pale, pink legs.
Siberian Blue Robin (female), Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the strong black bill and very pale, pink legs.

All four of our views of Siberian Blue Robin occurred in the Nanhui microforests. In Shanghai, Sibe Blue offers a good example of how migrant traps work. This species will spend the summer in thick cover in the great forests of northeastern China, the Russian Far East, Sakhalin Island, and Japan. It is a master skulker. Flying up the Nanhui coast, with its dearth of forest cover, a Sibe Blue sees the microforests the same way a tired traveler sees a hotel after a long day on the road. In the Nanhui microforests, now thickly carpeted with daisies and grasses, watch your step! Tired migrants such as Asian Stubtail, Sibe Blue, Rufous-tailed Robin, and Pale Thrush will wait until your foot is inches away before exploding out.

Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Well-known because of its manic 'Brain fever!' call and common in south China, Large Hawk-Cuckoo is rarely recorded in Shanghai. This photo is by far the best I have ever taken of Hierococcyx sparverioides and occasioned much celebration by our team. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5, 1/2500, ISO 1250, hand-held.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Well-known because of its manic ‘Brain fever!’ call and common in south China, Large Hawk-Cuckoo is rarely recorded in Shanghai. This photo is by far the best I have ever taken of Hierococcyx sparverioides and occasioned much celebration by our team. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5, 1/2500, ISO 1250, hand-held.

May Day is arguably the height of migration season in the Shanghai region. On sunny, warm days such as Sunday, the stimulation is constant, and exciting moments are many. Here is just one of many anecdotes: Nanhui, Sunday morning. Through Michael’s spotting scope I am enjoying a view of an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting that he and Elaine found. As I watch, a Pechora Pipit jumps into the circular view and drives the bunting away. An endangered bunting being chased away by a scarce passage migrant! Wow! Then Michael calls out that he has just seen a raptor. The bird disappears, and we get into our rented Buick and drive toward the trees into which it vanished. As we drive, out jumps Large Hawk-Cuckoo! Three rare Shanghai records in the space of five minutes!

The view of Yellow Bunting was team birding at its best. We were driving slowly on the semi-abandoned low road discovered a few months back by Michael. (The starting point of this road, which leads inland from a point behind the Magic Parking Lot, is 30.885592, 121.967369.) As we drove, we were kicking up foraging buntings, mainly Black-faced Bunting. Elaine and I, sitting up front, were the first to notice an anomaly: a yellow-shaded bunting with a mustache and goatee. It had to be Yellow Bunting! The bird disappeared. Michael and Elaine were going for a lifer, so we had to work carefully. We stopped the car and walked up and down the road, six eyeballs searching for the rare migrant. Elaine found it! Michael and I came running. Luckily for us, the bunting had found a feeding area it liked; it was loath to leave the road. Michael was ecstatic as he set up his spotting scope and watched the bunting feed.

Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata is a rare passage migrant on the Chinese coast. The bunting breeds in Japan and winters mainly in the Philippines. Its numbers have declined much over the years. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata is a rare passage migrant on the Chinese coast. The bunting breeds in Japan and winters mainly in the Philippines. Its numbers have declined much over the years. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

On Thurs. 28 April, Elaine and I did a quick walk-through at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. The park is more than a hundred years old, has many tall trees, and offers some of the best mid-sized urban-park birding in Earth’s largest city. Zhongshan holds sentimental value for me because it is where I ticked Elaine as a lifer (i.e., I met her there).

Our visit of less than two hours brought Elaine and me six passage migrants: Yellow-browed Warbler, Sakhalin/Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Tristram’s Bunting. A seventh, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, was reported by another birder.

The focal point at Zhongshan is the little central pond (31.224111, 121.414194). On Thursday all 3 Narcissus Flycatcher were noted there, among them a female, as well as our Eastern Crowned Warbler and Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. A tiny island in the center of the pond is almost cat-free (some cats do make the jump) and contains several large trees. Thanks to the nearly daily presence there of bird photographer Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), the central pond is an information clearinghouse; Mr. Wang and his buddies are always eager to tell you what they have been seeing lately.

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 28 April 2016 (17 species). Birds noted at Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Mostly cloudy; low 13° C, high 22° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NW 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 171 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:11, sunset 18:32. THU 28 APR 2016 16:15-17:55. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 4 (1 fledgling)
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 15
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2 singing
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 1
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 6
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 13 (2 fledglings)
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 2
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina 3
Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 5
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 2

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 30 April 2016 (59 species)

Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016.
Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016.

Birds noted on Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327), & Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873), an area of reclaimed land between Lesser Yangshan & Dazhitou Island (Dà Zhǐtou Dǎo [大指头岛]). Sunny. Low 14° C, high 24° C. Wind S 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 109 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:09, sunset 18:34. SAT 30 APR 2016 05:30-10:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 5
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 5
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 4
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 8
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 3
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 41
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 20
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 1
Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus 1
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 20
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 5
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 7
Grey-tailed Tattler T. brevipes 18
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 6
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Sanderling Calidris alba 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 10
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 15
Dunlin C. alpina 30
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 1
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos 3
Japanese Tit Parus minor 4
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 100
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 5 singing
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler H. fortipes 3 singing
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 3
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 10
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 6
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 5
Black-collared Starling Gracupica nigricollis 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 7
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 2 singing
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 1
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 15
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 2
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 2
Tristram’s Bunting E. tristrami 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 30 April 2016 (68 species)

Chinese Egret, Nanhui, 30 April 2016.
Chinese Egret, Nanhui, 30 April 2016.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159). List includes birds found along Shijitang Road between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Sunny. Low 14° C, high 24° C. Wind S 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 109 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:09, sunset 18:34. SAT 30 APR 2016 10:30-18:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 6
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 35
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 10
Great Egret A. alba 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 6
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 3
Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis 1
Circus sp. 1
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 10
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 20
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 15
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 1
Common Snipe G. gallinago 6
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 20
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 9
Common Redshank T. totanus 7
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 12
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 10
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 5
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 22
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 3
Sanderling Calidris alba 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 20
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 30
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 30
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 4
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 2
Brown Shrike L. cristatus 2 (1 lucionensis, 1 cristatus)
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 50
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 7
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 3
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 7
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis ca. 65 singing
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 18
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 1
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 13
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 10
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 4
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 1
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 6
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 3
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 1
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 18 (6 taivana, 12 tschutschensis)
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 14 (1 ocularis)
Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi 2
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 5

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 1 May 2016 (71 species)

Chestnut Bunting, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This colorful bunting breeds in the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Emberiza rutila winters in south China and Southeast Asia and is an uncommon passage migrant in the Shanghai region.
Chestnut Bunting, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This colorful bunting breeds in the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Emberiza rutila winters in south China and Southeast Asia and is an uncommon passage migrant in the Shanghai region.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159). List includes birds found along Shijitang Road between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Sunny & breezy. Low 19° C, high 24° C. Wind SSE 23 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 129 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:08, sunset 18:34. SUN 01 MAY 2016 05:20-16:50. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 15
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 5
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 18
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 11
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 8
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 1 calling
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 3
Common Redshank T. totanus 3
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 32
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 13
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 10
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 20
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 8
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 10
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 4
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 5
Little Tern Sternula albifrons 3
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 16
Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 2
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 3
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 16
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 300
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 1
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 3 singing
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 1
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 9
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 7
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 7
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis ca. 65 singing
Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps 3 singing
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 7
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 4
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 16
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 14
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 8
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 3
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 6
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 4
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 8
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 11
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 3
Rufous-tailed Robin L. sibilans 1
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina 1
Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 28 (8 taivana, 20 tschutschensis)
White Wagtail M. alba 4 (1 ocularis, 1 juv. leucopsis w. parents)
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 10
Pechora Pipit A. gustavi 26 (6 singing)
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 3
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 4
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 4
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 2
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila 1
Yellow Bunting E. sulphurata 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 42

Microforest, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Beautiful daisies grace the forest floor. Vegetation is thick, the leaves have sprouted, and birds are many.
Microforest, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Beautiful daisies grace the forest floor. Vegetation is thick, the leaves have sprouted, and birds are many.

Featured image: Pechora Pipit perching on newly planted tree at Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 1 May 2016.