“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 WarblerSeicercus tephrocephalus, and in Microforest 2 (30.926013, 121.970705) an appearance was made by Alström’s WarblerS. 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.
Other highlights from Saturday along the 30-km stretch of coastline:
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:
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.
PH: Excellent, Craig. As you know they’ve all got white in their outer tails. Alström’s (aka Plain-tailed) doesn’t have much …
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.
Here is the voice of the Alström’s Warbler that I recorded with my Olympus DM-650 pocket recorder:
Did you know that Shanghai is going to have a municipal bird? Guess what the two main candidates are: Light-vented Bulbul and Reed Parrotbill. Although I can understand why Light-vented Bulbul needs to be in the running, Reed Parrotbill is clearly the better choice. Let me tell you why.
The argument for Light-vented Bulbul is that it is a bird of the people. As the versatile little bird lives even in the deepest recesses of the urban jungle, many Shanghai residents are familiar with it. Reed Parrotbill, by contrast, is less well-known.
One reason Reed Parrotbill is less known, of course, is that the reeds that used to cover the coastline and line the banks of the Yangtze River are disappearing. The disappearance of those reeds is perhaps the best reason to make Reed Parrotbill the municipal bird.
The choice of Reed Parrotbill would be a bold endorsement of Natural Shanghai, the city at the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway. It would be a way of saying that Earth’s largest city values not only Reed Parrotbill but also the threatened habitat in which Reed Parrotbill lives.
The choice of Light-vented Bulbul, by contrast, would constitute a failure of imagination. It would be not a celebration of Natural Shanghai but a ratification of the environmental degradation afflicting this city. Light-vented Bulbul is a species that thrives in the degraded habitats that are all too common in Shanghai.
The choice of Reed Parrotbill for municipal bird is far more than a political statement. The bird is full of personality and is beautiful, with rusty flanks, a grey head with a long black eyebrow, and a big yellow bill. The latter it uses to pry open reeds to get the insect larvae inside.
Reed Parrotbill has a varied repertoire of calls, all lively and colorful. To this day the calls and song of this species are among the most common bird sounds heard at Nanhui and on Hengsha Island and Chongming Island.
The chirr sound is perhaps the best-known. I recorded all the sounds below at Nanhui, with the exception of “siren,” recorded on Chongming. Enjoy them and get to know Shanghai’s best choice for municipal bird, Reed Parrotbill.
chirr (00:03; 930 KB)
insistent (00:05; 1 MB)
plaintive (00:04; 958 KB)
merry (00:20; 1.6 MB)
siren (00:04; 954 KB)
Because of the continued degradation and reclamation of the reed-bed habitat on which it is totally dependent, Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei is listed by IUCN as Near Threatened. In Chinese it is known as “Chinese Parrotbill” (Zhèndàn Yāquè, 震旦鸦雀). Nearly its entire range is in China, from Heilongjiang south to Zhejiang. Small parts of its distribution spill over into Mongolia and the Russian Far East.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you agree that Reed Parrotbill should be the municipal bird of Shanghai? Would you prefer another species? Readers want to know what you think! Leave a comment below.
115 SPECIES AT PUDONG SITES
Since last we posted, Elaine Du and I birded three days: Sat. 5 Nov., Tues. 8 Nov., and Wed. 9 Nov. 2016. We noted 115 species. At Nanhui’s defunct nature reserve (30.920507, 121.973159) we had Long-billed Dowitcher and EndangeredGreat Knot, and we noted the continued presence there of EndangeredBlack-faced Spoonbill. Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) yielded Smew, Greater Scaup, Black-necked Grebe, and an uncommon Shanghai record of Black Kite. We had Reed Parrotbill and Brown-cheeked Rail at a new site called the Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), and we went three-for-three with EndangeredYellow-breasted Bunting at a point (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, where we also attained an autumn record of Black-browed Reed Warbler. Drives along the sea-wall road gave us Amur Falcon and Peregrine Falcon, and Japanese Sparrowhawk dove for cover into Microforest 7.
We found Tundra Swan (bewickii) on all three days, with a high count of 11 on 9 Nov. on the mudflats near Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074). The previous evening near Big Bend we had a rare Shanghai record of Greater White-fronted Goose. In the mudflats north of South Lock (30.860073, 121.909997) we had Eurasian Curlew and a rare Shanghai record of Mew GullLarus canus.
Among shorebirds, Dunlin and Kentish Plover not surprisingly were the most numerous. Careful scanning allowed us to sift out more southerly winterers such as the Great Knot as well as small numbers of Black-tailed Godwit, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, and Sanderling. VulnerableSaunders’s Gull were at the defunct nature reserve.
Microforest 4 yielded Japanese Robin on 7 Nov., seen and photographed by Shanghai birder kaca. A careful search by us the following two days failed to turn up the rare passage migrant. On 5 Nov. we had a late record of Arctic Warbler. Other interesting passerines were Hair-crested Drongo and Naumann’s Thrush. Scaly-breasted Munia was at the Iron Track, we had season’s first Rustic Bunting, and the skies gave us Red-rumped Swallow and Asian House Martin.
On 5 Nov. Elaine and I were joined by Michael Grunwell, the Shanghai-based veteran British birder. On 8 Nov. we welcomed U.K. birder Mike May, and on 9 Nov. we partnered with U.S. birder Erica Locke.
PLEASE REPORT ABUSE
On 8 Nov. we found a bird photographer with a cage baited with mealworms. We asked him politely but firmly to put the cage away, and he complied. If you see persons trapping or otherwise abusing birds at Nanhui, call the forestry department at 21-51586246 or the Pudong New Area Wildlife Protection Station at 21-61872122.
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii 11
Gadwall Anas strepera 12
Falcated Duck A. falcata 300
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 290
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 40
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 500
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 30
Northern Pintail A. acuta 120
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 140
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 15
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 250
Greater Scaup A. marila 4
Smew Mergellus albellus 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 50
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 12
Great Cormorant Eurasian Phalacrocorax carbo 200
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 60
Great Egret A. alba 20
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 260
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 12
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 14
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 8
Eurasian/Black-faced Spoonbill P. leucorodia/minor 48 distant, bills tucked in
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 7
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 30
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 35
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 20
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 40
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 3
Dunlin C. alpina 60
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 3
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 250
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 80
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 25
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 12
Black-headed Gull C. ridibundus 300
Vega Gull Vega Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 6
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 2
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 2
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 12
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 9
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 13
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 6
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 5
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 6
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 4
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 12
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 8
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 16
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 18
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 24
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 18
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 1
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata 2
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 9
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 3
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2
Featured image: Reed Parrotbill, a Chinese near-endemic, a species under threat, a bird of personality and beauty, and a symbol of Shanghai and the Chinese coast. Far left: Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 8 May 2010. Middle, top: Yangkou, 10 October 2010. Middle, bottom and far right: Nanhui, 18 May 2016. All by Craig Brelsford.