‘One of My All-time Ornithological Highlights’

“I have thought a lot about yesterday and can honestly say, it must be one of my all-time ornithological highlights.”

— Dr. Mike May, message to Craig Brelsford, 14 May 2017

Those are the words not of a new birder, but of a highly experienced visiting birder with thousands of birds on his life list who resides in bird-rich Extremadura, Spain.

Birding Cape Nanhui at the height of the spring migration left Mike May open-mouthed. Should anyone be surprised? The southeastern-most point of Shanghai is a world-class birding site.

Orange-headed Thrush Geokichla citrina, Cape Nanhui, 13 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Orange-headed Thrush Geokichla citrina made a thrilling appearance 13 May 2017 at the Photographers’ Corner at the Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229). (Craig Brelsford)

Mike’s 92-species day, Sat. 13 May 2017, with Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén and me included ultra-rarities such as Orange-headed Thrush as well as Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler. A pair of sub-adult Black-faced Spoonbill were getting by on the ever-shrinking pools at the beleaguered site.

The eBird list for Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland.
The eBird list for Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland. Submit your own records! It’s fun!

These records brought the all-time list for Cape Nanhui to 288 species, according to eBird–making Cape Nanhui the second-hottest birding hot spot in China.

Let me say that again: Of the thousands of birding spots in this vast, mega-diverse nation, the cape 60 km southeast of People’s Square is second only to Baihualing in Yunnan in species noted.

Sound unbelievable? Let me say something even more unbelievable: Not only is this rich spot completely unprotected, with not even a square meter preserved in any legal way; but it is, to the contrary, being actively destroyed, even as I tap out these words.

The backdrop to the work of Mike, Jan-Erik, and me was fleets of bulldozers and backhoes, busy throughout the weekend. They clattered and clanged, and the pumps transferring water into the newly dug canals whirred and chugged.

Mike May (R) and Zhāng Dōngshēng (张东升) meet. Dōngshēng, a professor at Shanghai Ocean University, is leading an effort to conserve Cape Nanhui.
Mike May (R) and Zhāng Dōngshēng (张东升) meet. Dōngshēng, a professor at Shanghai Ocean University, is leading an effort to conserve Cape Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

The pace of transformation is faster than ever now.

“Nanhui is gone,” my partners and I said.

A major ecological area, a place combining ease of access to millions of residents of Earth’s largest city and a favorable position on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway, is being utterly transformed.

While the Cape Nanhui that I have long known falls, huge tracts of adjacent tidal mudflat are being reclaimed, adding dozens of square kilometers to the land area of Cape Nanhui. Birding there in theory could have a future. A Cape Nanhui Nature Reserve could be set up in the new area.

Where Black-faced Spoonbill once foraged, digging machines now crawl, transforming critical reed-bed and marshland habitat into an artificial forest. Looming in the background is the brand-new satellite city, Lingang. Nanhui, Shanghai, 26 March 2015.
Where Black-faced Spoonbill once foraged, digging machines now crawl. Where once one savored the sound of Marsh Grassbird and Reed Parrotbill, now one cringes at the clanging of machines. No place in mainland Shanghai matches Cape Nanhui as a magnet to migrating birds. Cape Nanhui is one of the best birding hot spots in China, and it is not only completely unprotected, but it is being actively destroyed.

But even as the Cape Nanhui we know falls, no one, to my knowledge, has hastened to reassure conservationists that areas in the newly reclaimed land will be set aside for birds.

In the city-province of Shanghai, which is the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, a few places have indeed been set aside, among them Chongming Dongtan. But those reserves are small, on remote islands far from mainland Shanghai, and practically unreachable by the millions of middle-class Shanghainese who lack a car.

Cape Nanhui, by contrast, is easily reachable from the city. And it is the one place where masses of bird lovers can conveniently get a taste of the grand spectacle that is spring migration along the east coast of the Eurasian supercontinent.

That opportunity is being taken away, not only from the birders alive today, but also from the birders of the future.

THE THRILL OF NANHUI IN MAY

Lesser Coucal takes off. Cape Nanhui, 14 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Lesser Coucal takes off. Centropus bengalensis breeds in Earth’s greatest city. Recently, shanghaibirding.com examined Lesser Coucal and the other Cuckoos of Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

Our agony over the fate of Nanhui was tempered by the joy of birding. Orange-headed Thrush showed up Saturday at the Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229). With the two vertical bars on its face, our specimen was either of race melli (breeds Guangdong, etc.) or courtoisi (Anhui).

On Sunday the Magic Parking Lot delivered singing Grey-crowned Warbler Seicercus tephrocephalus, and in Microforest 2 (30.926013, 121.970705) an appearance was made by Alström’s Warbler S. soror. Neither breeds in the region; both are very rare vagrants to Shanghai.

Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883) gave us singing Yellow-breasted Bunting in full breeding finery and singing Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. I captured the latter’s song, rarely heard in Shanghai.

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola, 13 May 2017, Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883) (00:13; 2.1 MB)

The Marshy Agricultural Land (30.850707, 121.863662) near Eiffel Tower was highly productive, yielding Lanceolated Warbler, Forest Wagtail, and Striated Heron.

Varities of Eastern Yellow Wagtail. L: 'Green-headed Wagtail' Motacilla tschutschensis taivana. R: 'Alaska Wagtail' Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis. Both photographed within a few meters of each other dry rice paddies at Cape Nanhui, 13 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Varieties of Eastern Yellow Wagtail. L: ‘Green-headed Wagtail’ Motacilla tschutschensis taivana. R: ‘Alaska Wagtail’ M. t. tschutschensis. Both photographed on dry rice paddies at Cape Nanhui, 13 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Other highlights from Saturday along the 30-km stretch of coastline:

Yellow Bittern 2
Chinese Egret 14
Pacific Golden Plover 1
Pheasant-tailed Jacana 1
Black-tailed Godwit 17
Grey-tailed Tattler 2
White-winged Tern 260
Lesser Coucal 1
Common Cuckoo 12 singing
Tiger Shrike 4
Sand Martin ca. 300
Collared Finchbill 2
Arctic Warbler 5 singing
Thick-billed Warbler 1
Marsh Grassbird 2 singing
Forest Wagtail 1

Complete checklist here.

Sunday saw Jan-Erik and me note 78 species.

L-R: Jan-Erik Nilsn, Charles Wu, and 12-year-old birder Young Jack Han view Tiger Shrike in Microforest 4, 14 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
L-R: Jan-Erik Nilsén, Charles Wu, and 12-year-old birder Jack Han view Tiger Shrike in Microforest 4, 14 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Highlights:

Japanese Sparrowhawk 1
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper 350
Dunlin 350
Oriental Pratincole 3
Little Tern 5
Hair-crested Drongo 8
Dusky Warbler 1
Taiga Flycatcher 1
Pechora Pipit 17 singing

Complete checklist here.

A DISCUSSION ABOUT SEICERCUS

Per's PDF
Some of the more challenging Seicercus warblers. This graphic was created by Shanghai Birding member Per Alström for a presentation he made to the Beijing Birdwatching Society in 2012. The PDF is downloadable through shanghaibirding.com.

Shanghai Birding is the WeChat companion to this Web site. Our 126 members include everyone from persons brand-new to birding to some of the most knowledgeable birders in China. We discuss everything from the most common species to the most arcane.

You can join Shanghai Birding. Just friend me on WeChat (WeChat ID: craigbrelsford). Let me know that you want to join Shanghai Birding. I will add you.

Here is an edited transcript of a recent conversation on Shanghai Birding about the Seicercus warblers at Cape Nanhui:

Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.

Paul Holt: Can you post your recording of yesterday’s [14 May 2017] Alström’s Warbler as well please, Craig?

Craig Brelsford: Will post after I get home. Meanwhile, have you assessed the recording I posted yesterday morning? Do you agree it’s Grey-crowned Warbler? Jonathan Martinez, I’d like your view, too!

Craig Brelsford had earlier posted these sound recordings:

Grey-crowned Warbler Seicercus tephrocephalus 1/3, 14 May 2017, Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229), Nanhui (00:36; 3 MB)

Grey-crowned Warbler 2/3 (00:49; 3.6 MB)

Grey-crowned Warbler 3/3 (01:08; 4.3 MB)

PH: Yes, Grey-crowned Warbler!

PH: For what it’s worth, while there are probably 30+ records of “golden-spectacled warblers” from coastal Hebei, very, very few have been as well documented as Craig’s and team’s recent Grey-crowned. Many have been photographed but far fewer sound-recorded. Alström’s is so far the only one so far known to breed north of the Qinling Shan (it’s a scarce and very local breeder at two, possibly three, sites in Beijing). Personally I’ve never seen soror in coastal Hebei (nor am I aware of any being sound-recorded there), but I have noted (and sound-recorded) 2 Bianchi’s S. valentini and 1 Martens’s S. omeiensis in coastal Hebei. I understand that the only (?) three coastal Hebei birds that have been captured and had their DNA compared have all been omeiensis. We’re very, very far from ascertaining the true statuses of these Seicercus in our area, but you perhaps should/might see more in Shanghai and coastal Zhejiang. As many of you already know, there are some excellent sound recordings of these on Per’s site.

CB: Great analysis, Paul, and great that you point out the resources on Per’s site. Jan-Erik and I got good sound recordings of the purported soror yesterday, and Charles Wu and I got some good shots, among them images of the outer tail feathers, which definitely had some white in them.

CB: Grey-crowned Warbler appeared in the microforests almost exactly a year ago: http://www.shanghaibirding.com/2016/05/20/great-records/

PH: Excellent, Craig. As you know they’ve all got white in their outer tails. Alström’s (aka Plain-tailed) doesn’t have much …

Alstrom's Warbler with splayed tail feathers. Craig Brelsford
Alström’s Warbler with splayed tail feathers. (Craig Brelsford)

CB: Right, Paul; thanks. The discussion yesterday was one of comparison and degree. How little must the white be in the tail, we were asking ourselves, for a Seicercus to “qualify” as Alström’s/Plain-tailed? Was the white in our photos a little or a lot? We ended up thinking a little, and that and the song we recorded led us to a determination of soror. I’ll post my photos and recordings as soon as I’m home.

PH: Personally, Craig, I find it very difficult to judge the amount and distribution of white on the tails of these Seicercus in the field and think that a good photo with the tail splayed would really be necessary. Even then, the differences are small and subtle. Tricky group!

Jonathan Martinez: Regarding the ID of these Seicercus, I have found that call is by far the easiest way to ID them. They all have a characteristic call. Some of them, like Alström’s or Bianchi’s, are usually quite vocal; others not as much. It requires much more experience or use of sonogram to ID them by song, but a few of them (Alström’s especially) include their call in their song, and some of them (Grey-crowned, Martens’s) include a trill in their song. Others do not (Alström, Bianchi’s). ID-ing them on plumage is, of course, a level up.

Alstrom's Warbler, Microforest 2, 14 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Alström’s Warbler Seicercus soror, Microforest 2, 14 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Here is the voice of the Alström’s Warbler that I recorded with my Olympus DM-650 pocket recorder:

Alström’s Warbler Seicercus soror 1/4, 14 May 2017, Microforest 2 (30.926013, 121.970705), Nanhui (00:50; 3.6 MB)

Alström’s Warbler 2/4 (00:08; 1.9 MB)

Alström’s Warbler 3/4 (01:08; 4.3 MB)

Alström’s Warbler 4/4 (00:41; 3.2 MB)

Featured image: Visiting British birder Mike May uses Craig Brelsford’s spotting scope to scan for birds at Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, 13 May 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Meet Kai Pflug, Nanhui’s Mr. Clean

Let’s hear it for Kai Pflug! The Shanghai-based German birder has taken it upon himself to clean up Nanhui, Shanghai’s best-known birding area. On Sun. 11 Sept. 2016, Kai hauled out two bagfuls of trash from Nanhui’s Microforest 2 (30.926138, 121.970795), and I’m proud to say my wife Elaine Du helped Kai out on Microforest 1. Kai has long been cleaning the microforests, and his work has had a big effect on those precious migrant traps.

In his car, Kai keeps six pairs of tongs as well as a roll of plastic bags. Kai told me he uses tongs “to show others that it’s possible to clean up trash without getting your hands dirty!” He keeps six pairs so that others can join him in his quest to keep the microforests clean.

Photographers await Fairy Pitta on Sunday in Microforest 2.
Photographers await Fairy Pitta in Microforest 2.

As if his work on the trash weren’t enough, Kai further burnished his eco-credentials Sunday morning at Microforest 2. There, about 30 photographers have set up camp to photograph Fairy Pitta, a species that has been present in the tiny wood since early September. Someone had speared mealworms onto a metal hook. The hook could rip the mouth of a hungry pitta. Kai spied the hook, marched into the setup, and tore it down. In his good Chinese, the product of 12 years living in this country, Kai explained to the surprised photographers, “This isn’t good! It can kill birds.”

A Fairy Pitta leaps toward a food item at the photography setup in Microforest 2, 11 Sept. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
A Fairy Pitta leaps toward a food item at the photography setup in Microforest 2, 11 Sept. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.

Kai’s actions Sunday were the backdrop to an eventful birding day. Partnering yet again with veteran British birder Michael Grunwell, Elaine and I noted 75 species. We birded the well-known coastal sites at Nanhui as well as the sod farm south of Pudong Airport. We had our first migrant bunting of the season, endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting; Himalayan Swiftlet in the skies above the Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782); and Pechora Pipit in the wet agricultural land north of Lúcháo (芦潮; 30.851111, 121.848528).

Other goodies were Lesser Coucal catching a frog, Asian Stubtail joining Fairy Pitta at the photography setup, and season’s first Yellow-browed Warbler, Siberian Thrush, and Blue-and-white Flycatcher. We had Green Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, and a migrating flock of Red Turtle Dove near the Pechoras and Eurasian Wryneck in the recently planted trees on the inner base of the sea wall. The microforests yielded a second Fairy Pitta, 8 Black-naped Oriole, 7 Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, and a good count of 12 Siberian Blue Robin.

This Black-naped Oriole, one of eight we found Sunday at Nanhui, was in full migration mode and very hungry. A forest dweller, Black-naped Oriole is usually among the shyest of birds, but this juvenile was foraging in the open and allowed us to approach while it searched frantically for food. It even sampled a flower petal!
This Black-naped Oriole, one of eight we found Sunday at Nanhui, was in full migration mode and very hungry. A forest dweller, Black-naped Oriole is usually among the shyest of birds, but this juvenile was foraging in the open and allowed us to approach while it searched frantically for food. It even sampled a flower petal!

Our trip to the sod farm was cut short by rain. Before the shower we noted ca. 800 Oriental Pratincole. Obviously this grassy area is important to the species, which breeds in the Shanghai region and which with the development of Pudong has seen a dramatic shrinkage of its territory.

On Mon. 5 Sept. Elaine and I did our first urban birding of the season at Shanghai’s Century Park. Among the 24 species we noted were passage migrants Oriental Dollarbird, Asian Brown Flycatcher, and Grey-streaked Flycatcher.

Siberian Blue Robin, among the 12 we found Sunday in the microforests of Nanhui. In Nanhui one usually views these secretive birds from a distance and obscured by branches and leaves, as shown in the two left-hand panels. On their breeding grounds in Heilongjiang, <a href="http://www.shanghaibirding.com/explorations/boli-may-june-2016/" target="_blank">where this past spring Elaine and I studied Siberian Blue Robin and other northeast China breeders</a>, one is lucky to get even this good a view.
Siberian Blue Robin, among the 12 we found Sunday in the microforests of Nanhui. In Nanhui one usually views these secretive birds from a distance and obscured by branches and leaves, as shown in the two left-hand panels. On their breeding grounds in Heilongjiang, where this past spring Elaine and I studied Siberian Blue Robin and other northeast China breeders, one is lucky to get even this good a view.

Day Lists
My first reference is IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 5 Sept. 2016 (24 species). Century Park (Shìjì Gōngyuán [世纪公园]; 31.219361, 121.551900), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Most cloudy with drizzle; low 23° C, high 29° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind E 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 87 (moderate). Sunrise 05:33, sunset 18:11. MON 05 SEP 2016 14:10-17:00. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 5 (3 juvs.)
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 12
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 6 (ads. & juvs.)
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove ) Columba livia 6
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 25
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 9
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 65 (ads. & juvs.)
Japanese Tit Parus minor 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 40 (ads. & juvs.)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 61
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 3
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 65 (ads. & juvs.)
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 15
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 3
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 8

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 11 Sept. 2016 (73 species)

Lesser Coucal with prey, Nanhui, 11 Sept. 2016.
Lesser Coucal with prey.

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. Includes birds found along Shijitang Road between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, among them Microforest 1 (30.924008, 121.971712) & Microforest 2 (30.926138, 121.970795). Cloudy, turning rainy. Low 21° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind ENE 12 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 132 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:36, sunset 18:03. SUN 11 SEP 2016 06:25-15:05. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Garganey Spatula querquedula 30
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 42
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Great Egret A. alba 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 4
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 110
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 6
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 6
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 8
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 1
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 20
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa melanuroides 1
Broad-billed Sandpiper Calidris falcinellus 1
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 25
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 12
Dunlin C. alpina 15
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 12
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe  G. stenura/megala 15
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 1
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 1
Grey-tailed Tattler T. brevipes 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 3
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 8
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 30
Little Tern Sternula albifrons 10
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 2
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 50
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida 10
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 2
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica 11 (flock)
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 8
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis 1
Cuculus sp. 10
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris 1
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus 15
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 19
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 32
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 8
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata 7
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 6
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 12
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 8
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 3
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 7
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 6
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 12
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia 1
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 1
Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica 2
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 8
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 17
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 120
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis 50
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 5
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Pechora Pipit A. gustavi 2
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola 1

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 11 Sept. 2016 (8 species). Birds noted at sod farm south of Pudong International Airport (31.112586, 121.824742), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Cloudy, turning rainy. Low 21° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind ENE 12 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 132 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:36, sunset 18:03. SUN 11 SEP 2016 15:30-16:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius ca. 200
Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 20
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe G. stenura/megala 10
Common/Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe G. gallinago/stenura/megala 30
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 8
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 2
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum ca. 800
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis ca. 50

Featured image: Kai Pflug picks up litter at Microforest 1, Nanhui, Shanghai, 11 Sept. 2016. Photos by Craig Brelsford.

98 Species at Top Shanghai Sites

On 28-29 Nov., Elaine and I noted 98 species at three of the Shanghai region’s top sites: Lesser Yangshan Island, Nanhui, and Hengsha Island. On Hengsha Main Pond we noted 3200 Falcated Duck. We noted Water/Brown-cheeked Rail at Nanhui and at Hengsha, and among the hundreds of ducks at Dishui Lake were 10 Greater Scaup as well as 15 Black-necked Grebe. A beautiful jack Merlin was grounded by rain on Hengsha, and another on Nanhui scared up a cloud of rather late Barn Swallow. Verditer Flycatcher resorted to the reeds in the treeless reclaimed area on Hengsha, and on Lesser Yangshan we saw a juvenile Lesser Coucal. That tiny island was characteristically thrushy, with Red-throated Thrush and Naumman’s Thrush appearing alongside Dusky Thrush, Pale Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Chinese Blackbird, the latter not commonly seen on Lesser Yangshan.

Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman's Thrush.
Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman’s Thrush.

The 9000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond were overwhelmingly of just three species: Falcated Duck, Gadwall, and Eurasian Coot, with sprinklings of Mandarin Duck, Common Shelduck, Common Pochard, and Black-necked Grebe. I had never seen so many birds in a single place in Shanghai Shi. The reclaimed area on which the pond sits is under no environmental protection; the area is slated to be turned into a giant container port.

Hengsha Main Pond is in the northwest quadrant of the reclaimed area, hard by the fenced border with Hengsha Island proper. We viewed the pond from the perimeter road, the other side of which contains farms and trees. While scanning and counting, we noted Hair-crested Drongo and Dusky Warbler. Earlier, in the reclaimed area we once again noted Chinese Grey Shrike and a single Water Pipit. We hadn’t seen Intermediate Egret in a while. Robin-like Red-flanked Bluetail were absent from the treeless reclaimed area, but chat-like Daurian Redstart turned into reed-bed specialists; we noted 18.

Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited.
Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited.

On Saturday Elaine and I were joined by veteran English birder Michael Grunwell. Lesser Yangshan was its typical late-November self, serving up its usual fare of Daurian Redstart, less common delicacies such as Yellow-bellied Tit, and a main course of buntings, this time Meadow Bunting, Little Bunting, Yellow-throated Bunting, and Black-faced Bunting.

The diversity of ducks on Dishui Lake was a welcome surprise. Common Shelduck appeared here as well, and we sifted through the Tufted Duck to find the Greater Scaup. The Mandarin Duck were seen on a pond inside the sea wall and attracted some photographers, who paid little attention to the nearby flock of 800 Kentish Plover.

Mandarin Duck, Nanhui.
Mandarin Duck, Nanhui.

At Nanhui as well as at Hengsha, we selected places likely to hold Water Rail or Brown-cheeked Rail. There, we played back recordings of Rallus aquaticus. On both occasions, we got a loud call from someplace deep within the reeds, but no appearance. While waiting at Nanhui, we noted a flock of Reed Parrotbill.

We spent Saturday night at Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿; +86 135-0185-1814 and +86 150-2164-5467). For 120 yuan we got a simple double room with bathroom down the hall. Meals are usually available there, but we arrived too late. We had freeze-dried meals with us; they once again proved to be a big asset, allowing us to eat a full meal after a long day birding.

By positioning ourselves on Hengsha the night before we birded, we saved ourselves our typical early wake-up in the city and a dash to Changxing Island for the first ferry.

The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. Look for a bend in the road, a gap in the fence, and a broken causeway below. Photo by Elaine Du.
The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. Look for a bend in the road, a gap in the fence, and a broken causeway below. Photo by Elaine Du.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 28 Nov. 2015 (32 species)

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), Garbage Dump Coastal Plain (30.638860, 122.060089), & Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327). Partly cloudy. Winds SSE 6 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:28, sunset 16:49. High 14°C. SAT 28 NOV 2015 07:10-10:20.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 5
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 3
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 40
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 3
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 6
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 20
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 3
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 6
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 2
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 7
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 8
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 20
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 10
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 15
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 15
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3

Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui.
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui.

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 28 Nov. 2015 (53 species)

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159); list includes birds found at Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782), Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), the empty blue-roofed building & nearby microforests (30.961368, 121.952136), and Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Partly cloudy. Winds SSE 6 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:28, sunset 16:49. High 14°C. SAT 28 NOV 2015 10:50-16:00.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 7
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata 6
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 350
Gadwall A. strepera 5
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 20
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 14
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 50
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 60
Greater Scaup A. marila 10
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 30
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 20
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 15
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 41
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 40
Great Egret A. alba 9
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 30
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 3
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 3
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/R. aquaticus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 100
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 8
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 800 (flock)
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 4
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 5
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 100 (flock)
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 15
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 2
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 12
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 17 (7 tschutschensis, 7 taivana)
White Wagtail M. alba 15
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 24
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 5

Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye.
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 29 Nov. 2015 (66 species)

Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), a small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to birding area at 31.297333, 121.859434. Excellent view of large pond at 31.331804, 121.883224. Cloudy with light rain. Winds SW 3 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:34, sunset 16:51. High 13°C. SUN 29 NOV 2015 07:00-16:00.

Greylag Goose Anser anser 1
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 20
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata 40
Falcated Duck Anas falcata ca. 3200
Gadwall A. strepera ca. 2625
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 5
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 45
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 20
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 14
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 200
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 220
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus ca. 50
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 2
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 5
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 5
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 70
Great Egret A. alba 60
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 2
Little Egret E. garzetta 65
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 3
Black Kite Milvus migrans lineatus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/R. aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 30
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 3000
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 13
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 5
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 6
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 4
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 4
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 20
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 25
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 8
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 5
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 3
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 6
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 5
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 30
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 3
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 12
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 1
Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassinus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 18
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 15
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 20
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 5
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 4
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 3
Water Pipit A. spinoletta blakistoni 1
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 5
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 65

Featured image: While Craig Brelsford consults Collins Bird Guide, Michael Grunwell uses Craig’s Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope to view Greater Scaup. Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 28 Nov. 2015. Photo by Elaine Du.