Greater Painted-snipe at Nanhui

I birded 10-14 Aug. 2017 with visiting U.S. birder Bob Orenstein. We noted 107 species at coastal sites in Shanghai and southeastern Jiangsu. At Pudong’s Cape Nanhui on 13 Aug., Bob and I had a rare Shanghai record of Greater Painted-snipe (above) and an early record of Mandarin Duck. On 12 Aug. at Dongling (32.224520, 121.534355), an impressive site that I had never birded, we had critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 2605 endangered Great Knot. We saw 4 Nordmann’s Greenshank at Dongling and had 30 members of that endangered species 11 Aug. at the coastal birding area (32.757056, 120.952294) at Dongtai. We noted Himalayan Swiftlet at Dongling as well as on 10 Aug. at Cape Nanhui, where we also had Amur Paradise Flycatcher.

Dongling is only 185 km north of People’s Square in Shanghai, closer than the declining old hot spot of Yangkou (“Rudong”) and the Dongtai coastal areas. Through a steady rain 12 Aug., Bob and I found high-tide roosts containing seas of Great Knot plus a single lonely Spoon-billed Sandpiper in complete winter plumage.

Seeing so many Great Knot was extremely heartening. In stark contrast, however, was endangered Far Eastern Curlew, of which only 5 were noted. Unlike near-threatened Eurasian Curlew (130), which though not abundant at Dongling numbered in the thousands at coastal Dongtai, Far Eastern Curlew were abundant nowhere.

On 11 Aug. Bob and I birded the reclaimed area of eastern Hengsha Island. The place was a bustle of activity, even at 5:15 in the morning, with 18-wheelers and dump trucks rumbling by. Security was tight. Guards were stationed at every intersection and in roving vans, one of which stopped us. We told them our purpose was birding; they told us to leave.

Before getting kicked out, Bob and I enjoyed one of my best moments ever with near-threatened Reed Parrotbill. A mega-flock of about 50 birds, much larger than the flocks one sees in the smaller, and ever-shrinking, reedy areas at Cape Nanhui, was making a loud noise during a morning feed. The flock contained juveniles and adults and proved that, provided it has habitat in which to flourish, Reed Parrotbill is a common, even dominant, reed-bed specialist.

I sound-recorded the raucous parrotbills:

Reed Parrotbill, 31.307498, 121.895095, 11 Aug. 2017 (02:39; 30.7 MB)

Let’s look more closely at some of our birds.

Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis

Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 13 Aug. 2017. Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, China.
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis. We found the birds in a canal at Cape Nanhui, where they likely are breeding.

​With the help of local Chinese birders, Bob and I found a pair of Greater Painted-snipe in a thickly vegetated, trash-strewn canal. The shy birds were aware of our presence and nervous, but they held their ground. That behavior, in combination with a photo another Chinese birder took suggesting that the male is brooding, persuaded us that the pair has a nest. We moved quickly away and did not return.

Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer

Footage I got 11 Aug. at Dongtai figures prominently in this video I made comparing Nordmann’s Greenshank to Common Greenshank.

To further hone your Nordmann’s Greenshank ID skills, and to relive the exciting appearance in 2016 of Nordmann’s Greenshank in Shanghai, see my post, Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer!

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

Great Knot was the star of this four-wader movie I made at Dongling.

Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala

The video below records one of my closest encounters ever with “Swintail” Snipe. I found this individual 14 Aug. at the sod farm (31.103100, 121.829300) south of Pudong International Airport.

The video shows some of the characters distinguishing this species pair from Common Snipe. (The two species themselves are, except in extraordinary circumstances, indistinguishable from one another.)

As the autumn migration season progresses, the sod farm bears checking; on 3 Sept. 2016 at the farm, my partners and I had a rare Shanghai record of Common Ringed Plover.

​The video of the snipe as well as the other two videos embedded into this post were made with my combination of iPhone 6 plus PhoneSkope adapter plus Swarovski ATX-95. This powerful combination allows the videographer to shoot usable video from a great distance, allowing even a shy snipe to act naturally. (I never got closer than 40 m to the snipe.)

Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei

Amur Para Fly
Amur Paradise Flycatcher, Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635), 10 Aug. Among the indicators of Amur are the rufous upperparts and tail as well as the indistinct border between breast and belly. (Craig Brelsford)

It was an exciting moment 10 Aug. when Amur Paradise Flycatcher appeared in Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). In the photo above, note the indistinct border between the bluish hood and white belly and the two-tone coloration of the hood–darker blue head, lighter blue breast. In Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, the hood tends to be uniformly colored and the border between the hood and white breast more distinct.

With this year’s fall migration season getting into full swing, paradise flycatchers are going to be moving through Shanghai, and you may wish to improve your skills. For more on separating Amur Paradise Flycatcher from Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, see my post from 2016, “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.”

Cuculus sp.

Adults and some juveniles are now moving through Shanghai. In a few weeks, nearly all adult Cuculus cuckoos will be gone, and we will be left with the juveniles. Cuckoos do not sing in autumn, and song of course is by far the best way of distinguishing among the Cuculus cuckoos of our region. I therefore almost invariably mark these silent birds “Cuculus sp.”

Let us say I assigned these silent cuckoos to Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Perhaps they were the size of a sparrowhawk (ruling out thrush-sized Lesser Cuckoo C. poliocephalus), and perhaps they even had yellow irides (ruling out dark-eyed Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus and providing yet more evidence against dark-eyed Lesser Cuckoo).

Even if my cuckoos passed these tests, unless they were singing the classic song (virtually unheard this time of year), how could I justify ID-ing them as Common? It is, of course, likely that some of them are Common, but how can one be sure that any given silent Cuculus cuckoo one is seeing is Common?

I refrain from making speculative species assignments. I refrain because we still do not know enough about the migration patterns in Shanghai of Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus and Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus.

Like so many of the woodland passerines that pass through Shanghai on migration, Oriental Cuckoo breeds in northeastern China. Like those woodland passerines, Oriental Cuckoo also may pass through Shanghai on migration. Oriental, of course, is very similar to Common, the two species having so many overlapping characters that a firm ID of non-photographed, non-singing birds is all but impossible; and Himalayan, which theoretically may be present in or near our region, is even more similar to Oriental (“virtually identical”–Mark Brazil, Birds of East Asia, p. 256).

In Shanghai it may be tempting to assign silent Cuculus cuckoos, particularly yellow-eyed adults, to Common Cuckoo. Before I ever started doing that, though, I would want to know more about Oriental Cuckoo and Himalayan Cuckoo in the Shanghai region. Maybe future studies, using captured cuckoos whose DNA has been analyzed, will reveal a surprising pattern of Cuculus migration in Shanghai. Maybe those studies will show that considerable numbers of Cuculus passage migrants are Oriental Cuckoo.

Until that day comes, I usually hold back from ID-ing non-singing Cuculus cuckoos.

For more information on Shanghai-area cuckoos, see my post, “The Cuckoos of Shanghai.”

Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris

Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 10 Aug. 2017. Near Cathedral of Birding at N end of Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, China.
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris. Near Cathedral of Birding at north end of Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, 10 Aug. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

​After being nearly unheard of in Shanghai as recently as a few years ago, Himalayan Swiftlet is now more and more regularly recorded in Shanghai in both spring and autumn.

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

The question arises of whether Himalayan Swiftlet has always been a scarce passage migrant and overlooked or whether its numbers are increasing in our area. It is of course also possible that both its numbers are increasing in our area and local birders’ skills and communication methods are improving.

That communication methods are improving is indisputable. One of the main causes of the improved communication is the WeChat group I founded, Shanghai Birding. The members of that group, who range from the newest of newbies to some of the most expert birders in China, regularly exchange sightings in real-time.

To join Shanghai Birding, friend me on WeChat (WeChat ID: craigbrelsford). Tell me that you wish to join Shanghai Birding. I’ll add you.

Here is the complete list of the birds noted by Bob Orenstein and me 10-14 Aug. 2017:

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata
Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Cinnamon Bittern I. cinnamomeus
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron A. purpurea
Great Egret A. alba
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Pacific Golden Plover P. fulva
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Black-tailed Godwit L. limosa
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red Knot C. canutus
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta
Spoon-billed Sandpiper C. pygmea
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis
Sanderling C. alba
Dunlin C. alpina
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus
Common Greenshank T. nebularia
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola
Common Redshank T. totanus
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi
Black-headed Gull C. ridibundus
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris
Little Tern Sternula albifrons
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
Spotted Dove S. chinensis
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Cuculus sp.
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach
Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula
Pale Martin Riparia diluta
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus
Japanese Tit Parus minor
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria

2016 Photo Highlights

Editor’s note: My photos of the year, 2016. Clockwise from top left: Cinereous Vulture on Chongming Island in January kicked off a year that saw a parade of interesting sightings in Shanghai; ultra-rare Band-bellied Crake was the highlight of my three-week trip to a never-birded area of Heilongjiang; on 10 Dec. members of Shanghai’s ever-growing birding community had a big day out at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui; in a two-month expedition to Qinghai, meeting this Tibetan Lynx was my biggest thrill.

Happy New Year! This post is a photographic summary of my birding year 2016.

Unlike 2015, which saw Elaine Du and me visit the United States, in 2016 we never left China. We birded eight months in Shanghai, two months in Qinghai, and three weeks apiece in the Dulong Gorge in Yunnan and in Elaine’s hometown of Boli in Heilongjiang.

SHANGHAI RARITIES

In a year that saw unprecedented numbers of good records in Shanghai, among them Nordmann’s Greenshank, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Swinhoe’s Rail, Black-naped Monarch, Crow-billed Drongo, Fujian Niltava, and Slaty Bunting, Elaine and I were on hand to record some of the rarities.

One of the best was Cinereous Vulture. I got this photo on 23 Jan. on Chongming Island.

Cinereous Vulture, 23 Jan. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Cinereous Vulture, Chongming, 23 Jan. 2016.

Pomarine Jaeger was discovered at Cape Nanhui on 19 Oct., a first for Shanghai. The next day, Elaine and I got this image.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Pomarine Jaeger/Skua Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016.

A trio of Critically Endangered Siberian Crane took up residence on Hengsha Island around 12 Nov. On 7 Dec., I got this photo.

Siberian Crane, Hengsha, 7 Dec. 2016.
Two of the 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016.

Here are images of birds more commonly noted in the Shanghai region.

Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Craig Brelsford.
Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Jiangsu, 21 May 2016.

 

Northern Boobook, one of four we saw on 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui.
Northern Boobook, 23 Oct. 2016, Nanhui.

 

Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Shanghai. Craig Brelsford.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, 1 May 2016, Nanhui.

 

Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui. 29 Oct. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016.

Dulong Gorge

From 16 Feb. to 5 March, Elaine and I were in Yunnan, where we explored the Dulong Gorge, a remote valley in the northwestern corner of the province. Birding there is excellent, and the views are sublime.

Beautiful Dulong Gorge near between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016.
Dulong Gorge between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016.

After days of rain, we were rewarded with this moon-set at dawn on 26 Feb.

The sublime spectacle of the moon setting over the Gaoligong Mountains at dawn was our reward for enduring days and days of rain. Photo taken on Gongshan-Dulong Road near Kongdang on 26 Feb. 2016. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/9, 1/320, ISO 640.
Gongshan-Dulong Road, 26 Feb. 2016.

We noted 170 species of bird at Dulong. One of the best was Grandala.

Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1820 m.
Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016.

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was Craig’s Bird of the Trip.

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Robin was Craig's Bird of the Trip. Our team noted 44 members of Tarsiger hyperythrus in the Dulong Gorge, all but 1 of them adult males. I got this photo at Pukawang on 24 Feb.
Rufous-breasted Bush Robin Tarsiger hyperythrus, 24 Feb. 2016.

Birds have plenty of places to hide in the thickly vegetated Dulong Gorge. Sometimes we got lucky, as with this Chestnut-headed Tesia.

Chestnut-headed Tesia, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016.
Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata, 26 Feb. 2016.

Qinghai

Elaine and I spent most of the summer in Qinghai. We noted 195 species of bird, but our most unforgettable moment was supplied by a mammal. This is Tibetan Lynx.

Tibetan Lynx (Lynx lynx isabellinus), Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai, China. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m.
Tibetan Lynx Lynx lynx isabellinus, Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m (14,920 ft.).

Tibetan Partridge was commonly noted in eastern Yushu Prefecture.

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

Another great chicken: White Eared Pheasant.

A pair of White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani pause from their evening forage to gaze warily at the camera. Kanda Gorge, Nangqian County, 5 July 2016. Elev. 3980 m. White Eared Pheasant is listed as Near Threatened because of habitat loss and poaching. In Kanda Gorge, the species seems to be doing well. This pair was feeding in the open next to the road.
White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016.

At desolate Hala Lake, elev. 4077 m, we found Tibetan Sandgrouse.

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

Brandt’s Mountain Finch is hardy. It thrives at high elevations.

Brandt's Mountain Finch takes long, straight flights at altitudes above 5000 m. I found this individual near Hala Lake, Qinghai, at an elev. of 4400 m.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch, near Hala Lake, 9 Aug. 2016. Elev. 4400 m.

Henderson’s Ground Jay is master of arid scrubland …

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

… while Isabelline Wheatear is master of the semi-deserts of Wulan County.

Isabelline Wheatear 2/3. F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
Isabelline Wheatear, Wulan County, 18 Aug. 2016.

We had great partners in Qinghai. One of them was Michael Grunwell.

Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski's Redstart at Przevalski's Site in the Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.
Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski’s Redstart in Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.

Landscapes in Qinghai are beyond beautiful. Here are my favorites.

Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. This photo was taken at 36.826334, 97.965649, elev. 3380 m.
Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016.

A closer look at the dunes.

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

I used my iPhone 6 for this image of a Chinese Juniper gazing out at the Dulan Mountains. The tree clings to the slope at elev. 3960 m.

Proud and strong, this Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis has gazed out at the Dulan Mountains for 200 years. It clings firmly to the slope at elevation 3960 m.
Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis, Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.

Heilongjiang

From 26 May to 12 June 2016, Elaine Du and I visited her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang, China. The area was never properly birded before we arrived there, and our discoveries have been many. The biggest highlight was Band-bellied Crake.

Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty.
Band-bellied Crake, Boli County, Heilongjiang, 8 June 2016.

Mandarin Duck breed in Boli County. We found this drake in a small pool deep in Xidaquan Forest.

Mandarin Duck, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016.
Mandarin Duck, 3 June 2016.

In the Manchurian forest, woodpeckers abound. The most common species is White-backed Woodpecker.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, 1 June 2016.

Elaine

Elaine Du is my wife and partner. The year 2016 was our third in a row of non-stop birding. Although she is happy birding and has put together an impressive life list, the Heilongjiang native is never happier than when she is in her hometown.

Elaine and Craig, Boli, Heilongjiang.
Elaine and Craig at home in Boli, Heilongjiang, 1 June 2016.

Through thick and thin we tough it out. Here we are smiling despite being confined to our tent during a rain shower at Hala Lake.

Elaine and Craig waiting out the rain in the tent.
11 Aug. 2016, Hala Lake.

At Eling Lake in Qinghai, where the Yellow River and China are born, Elaine and I posed for this self-portrait.

'We Are Family!' sang Sister Sledge back in '79. Here's the Chinese-American adventure team, Elaine Du (L) and yours truly--partners, spouses, family. Eling Lake, where the Yellow River and Chinese culture are born. 3 July 2016. Self-portrait taken with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.
Self-portrait taken 3 July 2016 with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.

Elaine is a little short, but she never gives up. In Dulong Gorge, she improvised a way to see Grandala, a life bird.

Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Elaine Du viewing Grandala for the first time, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016.
Brian Ivon Jones and Elaine viewing Grandala, 19 Feb. 2016.

Elaine is proud of the remnant Manchurian forest near her home in Boli. Here we are in front of a stand of Silver Birch.

The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.
Xidaquan, 10 June 2016.

People like Elaine’s family put food on the table for the city folks.

Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.
Elaine (L) with parents and elder sisters. Boli, 12 June 2016.

The Shanghai Birding Community

In 2015 I started shanghaibirding.com and the Shanghai Birding WeChat group. In 2016, the number of readers of the Web site and members of the chat group steadily grew. On 10 Dec., the day of the Shanghai Birding Christmas party, I led a group of birders to Cape Nanhui. There we found a pair of Red-crowned Crane, a first for mainland Shanghai. Here is the group after the historic event.

Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).
Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).

Happy New Year 2017!

The Shanghai Skua

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

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

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

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

POMARINE ID BASICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER PHOTOS

Enjoy these other photos of the rarity.

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

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

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

Its most common activity was roosting on the mud bank.

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

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

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

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

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

RARE AUTUMN RECORD OF NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rare Look at salangensis Ashy Drongo

Editor’s note: Each spring and autumn, Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus migrates through Shanghai. Race leucogenis breeds close to the Shanghai region and is the subspecies most commonly seen in Shanghai. The recent appearance at Nanhui of ssp. salangensis (pictured above) raises the question of exactly how numerous that central Chinese subspecies is on the Shanghai coast.

How dark was that migrating Ashy Drongo you just saw? You may want to pay attention, because the dark-grey central Chinese ssp. salangensis has been spotted at Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Shanghai. In this post, I lay out the identification criteria for salangensis and the paler, more common ssp. leucogenis. My theory is that salangensis appears at some higher rate in Shanghai than has historically been recorded, which until recently has been not at all. An opportunity to fine-tune our understanding awaits us!

SEPARATING THE SUBSPECIES

Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus. All photos by Craig Brelsford except 3a (by Kai Pflug ).
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus. 1, 2b: D. l. leucogenis, Laoshan (32.071265, 118.560699), 4 July 2009. Laoshan, a site in Nanjing, Jiangsu 290 km inland from Shanghai, is a breeding area for D. l. leucogenis. 2a, 4: D. l. salangensis, Nanhui, Shanghai, 15 Oct. 2016. 3a: likely D. l. salangensis, Nanhui, September 2016. 3b: D. l. leucogenis, Dongzhai National Nature Reserve, Henan, 1 June 2010. All photos by Craig Brelsford except 3a (by Kai Pflug).

Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus comprises 15 races, of which two are known in the Shanghai region: D. l. leucogenis and D. l. salangensis. D. l. leucogenis, the pale eastern race, is the more common migrant. D. l. salangensis is the darker race and is a vagrant to Shanghai.

A classic leucogenis (panels 1, 2b, 3b) is easy to distinguish from salangensis (2a, 4). A typical leucogenis is pale grey and shows a large white oval patch around the eye. D. l. salangensis is much darker, and its facial patch is reduced and less well defined. Both have a red iris.

Ashy Drongo not only has many races but also shows color variation within each race. The photos here were taken 1 June 2010 at Dongzhai, Henan. The drongo in Panel 1 is a classic pale leucogenis, and the drongo in panels 2 and 3 shows a slaty tone to the upperparts and underparts--though it too is most likely leucogenis.
Ashy Drongo not only has many races but also can show considerable color variation within each race. The drongos shown here were photographed within a few hundred meters of each other on 1 June 2010 at Dongzhai. The drongo in Panel 1 is a classic pale leucogenis. The drongo in panels 2 and 3 is a very different-looking bird, with a noticeable greyish-blue tone.

Intermediate forms (3a) are trickier. They may be purebreds showing random color variation or hybrids. The breeding ranges of leucogenis and salangensis partly overlap, with salangensis breeding in south-central China (mainly or exclusively south of the Yangtze River) and leucogenis breeding over a broad swath of eastern and central China from Sichuan east to Shandong and as far south as Guangdong.

Many thanks to Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez. Martinez lives in Shenzhen and is an expert on the birds of southeast China. He was the first to point out that the photos of Ashy Drongo being posted on the Shanghai Birding WeChat group were of salangensis. He also was instrumental in our identification of the melanistic form of Long-tailed Shrike, discussed below. Thanks also to Paul Holt, who offered his opinion on the breeding range of leucogenis, and to Kai Pflug, for yet another useful photo.

103 SPECIES ON 15-16 OCT. 2016

Long-tailed Shrike dusky morph, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016.
Dusky Long-tailed Shrike, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016. Note that Dusky is not a subspecies but a color morph within Lanius schach schach, the same taxon found in Shanghai. The melanistic morph, however, is rare in Shanghai. Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez reports that the form is ‘common’ in Guangdong, where the French birder resides. Martinez writes, ‘I’ve seen them in Jiangxi, Fujian, and coastal Guangxi. A bird turning up in Shanghai could be evidence of short-distance movements.’

Partnering with visiting U.S. birder Bryce Harrison, Elaine Du and I noted 103 species over the weekend of Sat. 15 Oct. and Sun. 16 Oct. 2016. We covered the three main birding areas in Shanghai: Nanhui, eastern Chongming Island, and the reclaimed areas of Hengsha Island.

At Nanhui on Saturday we found Nordmann’s Greenshank, 24 Black-faced Spoonbill, 4 Mandarin Duck, and the Ashy Drongo. On Sunday on Hengsha we found a dark-morph Long-tailed Shrike, rare in Shanghai.

Black-faced Spoonbill (L) and Eurasian Spoonbill, Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016. In the Shanghai region, the two species often are found together.
Black-faced Spoonbill (L) and Eurasian Spoonbill, Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016. In the Shanghai region, the two species often are found together. Though not under quite as much pressure as Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Platalea minor is nonetheless listed by the IUCN as endangered. Throughout the winter, Black-faced Spoonbill are consistently seen at Nanhui.

Nanhui also gave us Japanese Quail, Purple Heron, 6 Eurasian Spoonbill, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, and a Eurasian Woodcock at the Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551). We must have stumbled blindly past the well-camouflaged woodcock half a dozen times before finally flushing it. Also 4 Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, 2 Asian Stubtail, 2 first-of-season Red-flanked Bluetail, 2 Japanese Thrush, and 3 Eyebrowed Thrush.

Hengsha yielded Striated Heron, Pied Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Merlin, 9 Black-browed Reed Warbler, and our season’s first taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

Japanese Quail with ever-present backhoes in the background. Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016.
Japanese Quail with ever-present backhoes in background. Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016.

We found Eurasian Wryneck at Nanhui and on Hengsha and Bull-headed Shrike and Yellow-bellied Tit at Nanhui and on Chongming.

Nordmann’s Greenshank was roosting at nearly the same spot (30.920549, 121.963247) as a month ago. The endangered bird was among many Common Greenshank, allowing us to appreciate the former’s more obviously bi-colored bill, shorter legs, and more hunched appearance. The bird clearly stood out from among its Common cousins. For more on Nordmann’s ID, please see our Sept. 18 post, Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer.

The Black-faced Spoonbill were just a few hundred meters from the Nordmann’s in the defunct nature reserve. Poignantly, the spoonbills were roosting near the decrepit old sign introducing Platalea minor to the world.

UPDATES TO RECENT POSTS

This post has made waves among lovers of leaf warblers.This post has made waves among lovers of leaf warblers.
This post is making waves among leaf-warbler lovers.

My post of 26 Sept. 2016, “Pale-legged Leaf Warbler & the Shanghai Big 5,” has attracted the attention of Philip Round, one of the world’s foremost experts on Asian leaf warblers. I have written an addendum with an excerpt from an illuminating e-mail sent to me by Dr. Round. In it, he talks about the difficulties, some insurmountable, some not, in distinguishing Pale-legged Leaf Warbler from Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. In the republished post, scroll down to the section headed “UPDATE: 19 OCT. 2016.”

These photos are of a confirmed Amur female.
Amur female, Laoshan.

I have added two photos to the post of 10 Oct. 2016, “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.” The photos show a female Amur Paradise Flycatcher on its breeding grounds in Nanjing, Jiangsu. You now have another opportunity to study the photos of a confirmed Amur female. Compare that Amur with the migrating paradise flycatchers you find in the Shanghai area for an airtight ID. Scroll down to “UPDATE: 18 OCT. 2016.”

Day Lists
My first reference is IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 14 Oct. 2016 (1 species). A line of trees at 31.216753, 121.408195. Point is near Zhongshan Park (31.221888, 121.420066) in Changning District, Shanghai, China. 12:35. Craig Brelsford.

Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 8 (flock)

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 15 Oct. 2016 (75 species)

Bull-headed Shrike, Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016.
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus bucephalus, Nanhui. Outside the breeding season, the pale base to the lower mandible (inset) is present on both sexes of the nominate subspecies. This is an adult female. Note the lack of a black facial mask and the striking rusty-orange coloration. The nominate race breeds in northeast China, the Russian Far East and adjacent islands, Korea, and Japan and is a passage migrant in Shanghai. A little-known western subspecies, sicarius, breeds in Gansu and lacks the pale base to the lower mandible.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Partly cloudy. Low 19° C, high 23° C. Humidity 73%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind E 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 59 (moderate). Sunrise 05:58, sunset 17:21. SAT 15 OCT 2016 05:30-17:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Bryce Harrison.

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata 4
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 8
Garganey A. querquedula 5
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 60
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 80
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 50
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Great Egret A. alba 15
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 9
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 330
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 32
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 6
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 24
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 30
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 2
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 21
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 15
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 6
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 10
Dunlin C. alpina 20
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 16
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 80
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer 1
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 1
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 6
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 6
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 7
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 10
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 2
Falco sp. 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 4
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 22
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 3
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus salangensis 1
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata 4
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus 3
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 16
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 6
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 5
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 6
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 5
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 26
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 10
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 4
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Taiga Flycatcher F. albicilla 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 5
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 12
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 2
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 3
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 10
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 7
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 2
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 16 Oct. 2016 (50 species)

Pied Harrier, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016.
Pied Harrier, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016. This is an adult female.

Birds noted on Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to reclaimed area at 31.297333, 121.859434. Hazy, warm, humid. Low 19° C, high 27° C. Humidity 88%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind NNW 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 179 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:58, sunset 17:20. SUN 16 OCT 2016 05:45-10:15. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Bryce Harrison.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 11
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 20
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 8
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Great Egret A. alba 6
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 100
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 6
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Striated Heron Butorides striata 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 75
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 1
Hen Harrier C. cyaneus 1
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 20
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 2
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 180
Dunlin Calidris alpina 20
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 4
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 6
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 3
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 2
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 3
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Falco sp. 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 13 (including 1 dusky morph)
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 50
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 12
Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps 9
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 7
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 16
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 3
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 6
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 6 (4 taivana, 2 tschutschensis)
White Wagtail M. alba 10
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 12
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 1
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 16 Oct. 2016 (47 species)

Eurasian Hobby eating on the wing, Chongming Island, 16 Oct. 2016.
Juvenile Eurasian Hobby dining on the wing, Chongming Island, 16 Oct. 2016.

Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]), Chongming District, Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Hazy, warm, humid. Low 19° C, high 27° C. Humidity 88%. Visibility: 10 km. Wind NNW 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 179 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:58, sunset 17:20. SUN 16 OCT 2016 11:45-16:25. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Bryce Harrison.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 30
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 6
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 50
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Great Egret A. alba 10
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 4
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 50
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 12
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 5
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 60
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 2
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 2
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 8
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata 2
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 10
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 4
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 25
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 7
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 50
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 8
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo 1
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1
Falco sp. 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 16
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 18
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 50
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus 1
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 7
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 8 tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba 5
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 12
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 4

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 17 Oct. 2016 (2 species)

This line of trees wedged between two housing complexes holds many wild birds. On 17 Oct. 2016, I found Oriental Magpie-Robin and Japanese Tit, and on 14 Oct. I found a flock of Japanese White-eye.
This line of trees (31.216753, 121.408195) is wedged between two housing complexes near my apartment in Changning District, Shanghai. Deep in the bowels of Earth’s largest city, this spot is as urban as urban can be. The trees, however, are tall and provide a large surface area for wild birds. On 17 Oct. 2016, I found Oriental Magpie-Robin and Japanese Tit there, and on 14 Oct. I found a fast-moving flock of Japanese White-eye. Chinese Blackbird breed in the area, and Siberian Weasel have been noted in the vicinity.

A line of trees at 31.216753, 121.408195. Point is near Zhongshan Park (31.221888, 121.420066) in Changning District, Shanghai, China. Mostly clear. Low 18° C, high 23° C. Humidity 80%. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 107 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:59, sunset 17:19. MON 17 OCT 2016 08:35, 12:35. Craig Brelsford.

Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 1

WORKS CONSULTED

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Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. Quotations from Jonathan Martinez and Paul Holt taken from this chat group. To join Shanghai Birding, fill out the form on our Sightings page.

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Entry on Ashy Drongo, p. 300. Brazil’s opus grows weaker as the distance from Japan (his base) of the birds he is covering grows longer. Brazil offers no information on D. l. salangensis on the east coast of China.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 14, “Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows.” Entry for Ashy Drongo (p. 220) written by G.J. Rocamora and D. Yeatman-Berthelot. The authors have “N Gansu” as the northwestern limit of the breeding range of D. l. leucogenis. Is that likely? See also Paul Holt’s misgivings in MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps, below.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 13, “Penduline-tits to Shrikes.” Entry for Bull-headed Shrike (pp. 775-6) written by Masaoki Takagi. Long-tailed Shrike (p. 781) by Anton Krištín.

Ferguson-Lees, James & David A. Christie. Raptors of the World. Princeton Field Guides. Entries on Pied Harrier, Hen Harrier, and Eastern Marsh Harrier.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Entry on Ashy Drongo, pp. 281-2. MacKinnon has breeding range of D. l. leucogenis stretching to Heilongjiang. Paul Holt (Shanghai Birding WeChat group) disagrees, saying the northeastern limit is more likely Shandong. Holt writes: “I think that the weakest aspect of John MacKinnon’s ground-breaking field guide are the ranges, and again I don’t think HBW’s accurate on that front either. I’d discount Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, and Hebei from the breeding range of leucogenis Ashy Drongo and don’t believe that it can breed further north than Shandong (where it might not even occur) and southernmost Shanxi.”

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Ashy Drongo, p. 176.