Five years ago, from September through December 2012, Varied Tit burst into Earth’s Greatest City. For those few months, the status of Sittiparus varius varius in Shanghai went from “unrecorded” to “locally common.” I noted Varied Tit on various occasions on Lesser Yangshan Island and in urban Shanghai at Zhongshan Park, Changfeng Park, and Binjiang Forest Park.
The mass movement saw incursions of Varied Tit up and down the Chinese coast, with reports from as far south as Hong Kong. Unusually high numbers of Varied Tit were reported in South Korea as well as Japan (Loghry & Moores 2012).
The episode captured many birders’ imaginations, not only because of its ornithological interest, but also because Varied Tit is a beautiful bird.
Five years later, the 2012 irruption remains remarkable. Despite the growing number of birders in the Shanghai region, no one here has managed to find Varied Tit, a species not especially prone to irruptions.
Harrap and Quinn describe Varied Tit as resident throughout its range, with “some evidence,” some of which is “contradictory,” of movements south and to lower altitudes in winter. The word “irruption” does not appear in the authors’ otherwise exhaustive account of Varied Tit (1995).
In China, the nominate form of Varied Tit is confined to Northeast China (Liaoning and southern Jilin). It is resident as well on the adjacent Korean Peninsula and the main Japanese islands.
In 2012 as now, I was using my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens. Here are some of the photos I produced of Varied Tit.
Harrap, Simon & Quinn, David. Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, 1995. Varied Tit, pp. 70-1, 397-401.
Featured image: In autumn and winter 2012, Shanghai experienced an irruption of Varied TitSittiparus varius varius. Top 2, from L: Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, 5 Dec. 2012 and Changfeng Park, Shanghai, 17 Nov. 2012. Bottom 2: Lesser Yangshan, 30 Sept. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Distinguishing non-breeding Nordmann’s Greenshank from Common Greenshank is a tricky task, but one that reaps rewards. With practice you too can feel the rush that comes when you realize that the greenshank you are viewing is not one of the most common shorebirds in Eurasia, but one of the rarest. On Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 at Nanhui, our team experienced that thrill, picking out a Nordmann’s in a roost holding a few hundred shorebirds.
We noted the following:
— Tibiae of Nordmann’s Greenshank are noticeably shorter than those of Common Greenshank.
The picture above makes it clear. The biggest reason Nordmann’s is known as the stockier bird, the rugby player compared to the ballerina that is Common Greenshank, is tibia and leg length.
— Nordmann’s has a thicker neck that it often holds closer to its body and has a pronounced ventral angle (protruding belly), giving Nordmann’s a more hunched appearance than Common.
As with many of the characters of these species, the hunched stance of Nordmann’s is not always obvious, especially when the bird is active. Likewise, even a Common sometimes can appear stout. But as one’s observation time grows, the classic features of both species will emerge.
— Nordmann’s has a thicker, more obviously bi-colored bill than Common.
Because the Nordmann’s at our Nanhui roost did not fly, we missed the following key characteristics:
— The toes of Nordmann’s project just beyond the tail-tip; the toes of Common project farther.
This difference can be subtle, and a good camera is sometimes needed to appreciate it. But it is consistent.
— Nordmann’s has a cleaner tail and underwing than Common.
Even if your Nordmann’s is roosting, you can sometimes note the white underwing. Wait for the bird to stretch out its wing.
— The calls of Nordmann’s Greenshank and Common Greenshank are markedly different. The well-known “chew-chew-chew” call of Common is never made by Nordmann’s.
— In breeding plumage the species are more readily distinguishable. Nordmann’s Greenshank is also known as Spotted Greenshank for good reason. The heavily spotted underparts of breeding Nordmann’s are diagnostic. Unfortunately for birders in Shanghai, however, Nordmann’s in full breeding plumage is rarely seen.
Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer is an endangered species. Only 500 to 1,000 of these birds are thought to remain. Development along the East Asian coast is the main reason for its decline. Nordmann’s breeds in Russia, passes through China, and winters in Southeast Asia. It is present in the Shanghai area for several months each year.
OTHER GOOD STUFF
The Nordmann’s took top billing on a day that saw veteran British birder Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and me note 71 species at Nanhui, Lesser Yangshan, and the sod farm south of Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). We were joined at the roost and Nanhui microforests by the crack high-school birding team of Larry Chen, Komatsu Yasuhiko, Chi Shu, and Andy Lee.
Our Non-Nordmann highlights:
We noted 2500 at Nanhui, by far the highest number of White-winged Tern that I have seen. They made quite a spectacle, fluttering like snowflakes over the reed beds.
Three at the roost. Michael and I discussed whether Aleutian Tern, similar to Common Tern in winter plumage, passes through Shanghai and has been overlooked. Check for the red legs of Common; if the legs appear black, then keep investigating; you may have an Aleutian.
Ruddy Shelduck is uncommon in Shanghai; I have recorded flocks at Chongming but had never seen the species at Nanhui. We saw a single Ruddy in the marshy agricultural land north of Lúcháo (芦潮; 30.851111, 121.848528).
Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Red Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler
The godwits, knots, and tattlers were in the dry roost with the Nordmann’s. Every one of these species is at least near-threatened; Great Knot is endangered.
After the excitement with the Nordmann’s at the roost, the seven of us covered the microforests. Our teamwork paid off with a view of Black-winged Cuckooshrike, an uncommon passage migrant in Shanghai.
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher
Yet another near-threatened species, Terpsiphone atrocaudata is common on migration in Shanghai. We noted 10 on Saturday. Care must be taken to separate this species from Amur Paradise Flycatcher T. incei, which passes through Shanghai in smaller numbers. Male and female Japanese have a more extensive dark hood, extending almost to the belly, whereas that of Amur extends only to the upper breast. Consult your field guide for more differences.
On Lesser Yangshan we found Oriental Dollarbird. Our final stop was the sod farm south of Pudong International Airport, where we found 4 Pacific Golden Plover and 200 Oriental Pratincole.
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. Cloudy with drizzle, turning partly sunny. Low 22° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:40, sunset 17:56. Note: On Thurs. 15 Sept. 2016, Typhoon Meranti struck Fujian & Zhejiang & dumped much rain on Shanghai. SAT 17 SEP 2016 06:20-08:35, 11:55-16:35. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 150
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 40
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 3
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 10
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 50
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 50
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius 10
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa melanuroides 40
Bar-tailed Godwit L. lapponica 5
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 15
Red Knot C. canutus 20
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus 20
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 40
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 40
Dunlin C. alpina 20
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 5
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 5
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 2
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 3
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer 1
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 30
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 18
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 30
Little Tern Sternula albifrons 20
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 30
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus ca. 2500
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida 30
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica 2
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 5 Cuculus sp. 4
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 3
Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos 1
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus 1
Brown Shrike L. cristatus 12
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 15
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 3
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata 10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 3
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 3
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 5
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 3
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 6
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 5
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 25
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis 10
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 3
List 2 of 3 for Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 (13 species). Birds noted on Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327). Cloudy with drizzle, turning partly sunny. Low 22° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:40, sunset 17:56. Note: On Thurs. 15 Sept. 2016, Typhoon Meranti struck Fujian & Zhejiang & dumped much rain on Shanghai. SAT 17 SEP 2016 09:10-11:05. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 3
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 8
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 2
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2 Anthus sp. 2
List 3 of 3 for Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 (18 species). Birds noted at sod farm south of Pudong International Airport (31.112586, 121.824742), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Cloudy with drizzle, turning partly sunny. Low 22° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:40, sunset 17:56. Note: On Thurs. 15 Sept. 2016, Typhoon Meranti struck Fujian & Zhejiang & dumped much rain on Shanghai. SAT 17 SEP 2016 17:10-18:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 15
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 150
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 20
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 4
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 2
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius ca. 150
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 8
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 6
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 30
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 3
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe G. stenura/megala 6
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 8
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 12
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 20
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum ca. 200
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis 60
Featured image: Nordmann’s Greenshank stands among wader roost at Nanhui, 17 Sept. 2016. Using the principles described in this post, our team was able to ID this Nordmann’s. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko (“Hiko”) using his Kowa TSN 883 Prominar spotting scope and Kowa TSN IP6 adapter and Craig Brelsford’s iPhone 6.
The autumn migration season here in Shanghai has kicked off in style. Leading the parade of migrants is Fairy Pitta, seen in Microforest 2 at Nanhui on Sat. 3 Sept. 2016 and still there as of Sunday afternoon. Another notable sighting on Saturday was Common Ringed Plover at the sod farm south of Pudong International Airport.
Partnering yet again with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du and I were out Sat. 27 Aug. and again the following Saturday, 3 Sept. On both days we found Asian Dowitcher and endangered Great Knot. On 3 Sept. a group of 135 Great Knot and 3 Asian Dowitcher were part of a wader roost of ca. 400 individuals in the canal between microforests 1 and 2. The roost also contained a single endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, 30 Red Knot, and 3 Curlew Sandpiper. On the mudflats nearby, we had a flyby of 3 endangered Far Eastern Curlew. On 27 Aug. a smaller roost at the same location had some of the species noted above as well as Grey-tailed Tattler. 27 Aug. also yielded a single Red-necked Phalarope.
Other highlights from 3 Sept.:
26 Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe at sod farm near Pudong Airport
ca. 200 near-threatened Black-tailed Godwit in that wader roost at Nanhui
230 Oriental Pratincole at Nanhui and sod farm
1 Lesser Coucal (juv.) in reed bed at Nanhui
8 paradise flycatchers, all likely Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, in microforests at Nanhui
8 Arctic-type Warbler on Lesser Yangshan and at Nanhui, plus records of Eastern Crowned Warbler and the tricky species pair Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. The Eastern Crowned Warbler were silent, but the Arctic-types and Pale-Saks were calling.
516 Eastern Yellow Wagtail, most of this impressive number from Pudong Airport sod farm and the Nanhui sod farm on Ganlan Road (30.890865, 121.902011)
— On Sat. 27 Aug. we added to our trio special guest Mikkel Thorup, a mathematician from Denmark. This was not Mikkel’s first birding trip in China, but he is still fresh enough that he was picking off lifers left and right. Later, we were joined by the international high-school birding team of Komatsu Yasuhiko (Japan), Larry Chen (Canada), and Chi Shu (Shanghai).
— The decline of Lesser Yangshan as a birding spot is accelerating. Garbage Dump Coastal Plain has been lost to birding, with earth-moving machines all around and new buildings going up. Garbage Dump Gully is intact, but the increased activity on the coastal plain means that security, already tight now, may be even tighter in the future, and it may soon prove impossible to reach the gully. A migrant trap par excellence, Garbage Dump Gully is crucial to Shanghai birders. Over the years the gully has given birders Japanese Robin, Verditer Flycatcher, Varied Tit, White-bellied Green Pigeon, and scores of other good records. Garbage Dump Gully must be preserved; access to it must be sustained.
— On 27 Aug. we found a banded Black-tailed Godwit. As is my habit, I filled out and submitted the Leg Flag Report Form on the Web site of the Australasian Wader Studies Group. Our godwit, it turns out, received its bands on 19 June 2016 on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia (at 57.08, 156.64), 4000 km from Shanghai. UPDATE: On 9 Sept. 2016 a godwit with the E7 band was found by Chinese photographer kaca at virtually the same location as the 27 Aug. sighting.
— The task of ID-ing the Nordmann’s was clear-cut and was helped along by a Common Greenshank that appeared next to the Nordmann’s. The head of the Nordmann’s was proportionally larger than that of the Common, and it had a higher knee with shorter legs–an obviously stockier bird, a rugby player compared to a ballerina. The Nordmann’s stretched out its wing, revealing clean white plumage underneath. Common has a greyer underwing.
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus ca. 200
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 20
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 2
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 1
Common Ringed Plover C. hiaticula tundrae 1
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius 80
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 26
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 3
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 140
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 1
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 20
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis ca. 300
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 1
Featured image: Fairy Pitta, Nanhui Microforest 2, Sun. 4 Sept. 2016. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko using Nikon D7100 + Tamron 150-600 F/5.6, F/6, 1/100, ISO 640. Yasuhiko, or “Hiko,” is a contributor to shanghaibirding.com. A native of Japan, Hiko is a sophomore at Shanghai High School International Division.
The report is the latest in a growing list of resources available on shanghaibirding.com. Everything we do here is geared toward showing you what birding is like at the point on the Earth where the world’s greatest migratory flyway meets the world’s greatest city.
The report covers 7 March to 24 May 2016. Elaine and I birded 38 of those 79 days and noted 240 species. We partnered with members of our network of subscribers and contributors to shanghaibirding.com. Special thanks to Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén as well as to Xueping Popp, Stephan Popp, Kai Pflug, and Ian Davies.
Why should you read “Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2016”? Read it to plan your own explorations and to get an idea of what birds you can expect to see in this city in March, April, and May. You’ll find no more complete a report on that subject, anywhere.
From the intro:
“We deepened our knowledge of the birds of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway and increased our understanding of the pressures these birds face in the Shanghai region. One of the most densely populated areas in the world and an economic dynamo, the Shanghai tri-province area encompasses Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, is the size of the U.S. state of Kansas, and has a population of 160 million–half that of the United States.”
From the highlights:
“ — We continued to monitor species under threat by the uncontrolled coastal development afflicting the region, among them the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Great Knot, and Yellow-breasted Bunting; near-threatened Eurasian Oystercatcher, Asian Dowitcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Marsh Grassbird, and Reed Parrotbill; and vulnerable Chinese Egret, Saunders’s Gull, and Yellow Bunting. We led a group one of whose members found the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
“ — We recorded the first Blue Whistling Thrush in Shanghai since 1987. Other interesting finds were Horned Grebe on Chongming, Oriental Plover on Hengsha Island, Ruddy Kingfisher at Yangkou, Red-throated Thrush at Century Park, singing Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Zhongshan Park, Grey-crowned Warbler, Two-barred Warbler, Pechora Pipit, and Citrine Wagtail at Nanhui, White-shouldered Starling on Lesser Yangshan, Rufous-faced Warbler at Nanhui and on Lesser Yangshan, and Bluethroat at Nanhui and on Chongming.”