Does Green-backed FlycatcherFicedula elisae migrate through Shanghai? Records exist of the species, but in my opinion they are mainly misidentifications of female Narcissus FlycatcherF. narcissina narcissina (above). In this post, I am going to unearth the roots of my skepticism about F. elisae in Shanghai and describe the differences between female F. elisae and female F. n. narcissina.
Each spring and autumn, birders in Earth’s Greatest City claim records of elisae. Invariably, the bird in question is a female, not the very distinctive adult male. Here our first red flag pops up: How likely is it that elisae is the one species of passerine whose records in Shanghai never involve adult males?
For the sake of argument, let us admit the possibility of an all-female migration of elisae through Shanghai. Fine, I retort; then show me photos of these purported elisae. The photos are duly supplied, and again and again, as has been the case throughout my more than 10 years in Shanghai, the supposed F. elisae is revealed on closer scrutiny to be yet another female F. n. narcissina.
Indeed, I have seen better documentation in Shanghai of Ryukyu FlycatcherF. (narcissina) owstoni than of F. elisae; on 17 April 2016 at Pudong’s Binjiang Forest Park, Shanghai birder Zhang Xiaolei got a very interesting picture of a possible adult-male owstoni.
Mistakes of the sort many Shanghai birders are making contribute to a distorted picture of the presence on the central Chinese coast of a little-known species. What’s more, the mistakes are avoidable. Separation of female F. elisae and F. n. narcissina is usually straightforward.
Female F. elisae has greenish upperparts with a yellowish or olive tint. Female F. n. narcissina is greenish with a brownish tint, like female Blue-and-white FlycatcherCyanoptila cyanomelana (above). On their underparts, female F. elisae is “dull yellow or yellowish-buff,” while F. n. narcissina is mainly off-white, with brownish-white flanks and a hint of yellow on the throat and belly (Brazil).
Accurate records in Shanghai, one of the most thoroughly birded areas on the Chinese coast, will lead to better understandings of both F. elisae and F. n. narcissina. Already, the growing body of knowledge about these East Asian breeding endemics has led to the separation of F. elisae and F. n. narcissina into separate species. Previously, elisae had been treated as a subspecies of Narcissus Flycatcher.
We know as well that the summer and winter ranges of the sister species are disjunct, with F. elisae breeding in a very compact range in Hebei (Wulingshan), Beijing, and Shanxi and wintering in southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia. The breeding range of F. n. narcissina includes the main islands of Japan as well as the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, and the coastal Russian Far East. The species winters in Hainan, the Philippines, and Borneo and passes through Shanghai each spring from about 15 April to 15 May.
Unlike other passage-migrant flycatchers in Shanghai, F. n. narcissina is much less common in autumn than in spring. That is a mystery, one of many surrounding the migration of the Narcissus Flycatcher group.
In light of the information deficit, it behooves us Shanghai birders to strive for accurate records (or non-records) of elisae in our region. Let us practice self-discipline, hone our skills, and give outside observers the clearest possible picture of bird migration in Shanghai.
Brazil, Mark. 2009. Birds of East Asia. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Entries for Narcissus Flycatcher and Chinese Flycatcher (Ficedula elisae), p. 436.
Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3). shanghaibirding.com’s first reference for taxonomy as well as bird names in English.
Editor’s note: The photo above shows Hooded Crane flying above fields at Nanhui on 12 Nov. 2016. Before our sighting, Grus monacha had never been recorded on the Shanghai Peninsula. Each year, about 100 Hooded Crane overwinter on eastern Chongming Island, 60 km north of Nanhui at the mouth of the Yangtze River.
Elaine Du and I birded three of the four days between Sat. 12 Nov. and Tues. 15 Nov. 2016. We noted 105 species. On Saturday we had the first-ever record in Nanhui of Hooded Crane. We also found Baikal Teal on Saturday as well as Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra Swan, and Jack Snipe. Sunday was also spent at the coastal site in Pudong and gave us calling Brown-cheeked Rail as well as Hair-crested Drongo and late Rufous-tailed Robin. Other weekend Nanhui records were EndangeredBlack-faced Spoonbill holding steady at the defunct nature reserve (30.920500, 121.973167), Amur Falcon feasting on gnats small enough for leaf warblers, an uncommon Shanghai record of Water Pipit, and two more sightings of EndangeredYellow-breasted Bunting at its increasingly reliable site (30.850707, 121.863662). On Tuesday at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park (31.221888, 121.420066) we had a very late Narcissus Flycatcher.
ELAINE’S FEAT OF BIRDING
The flyby sighting of Hooded Crane was Elaine’s finest hour. Michael Grunwell was in the back seat and, blinded by the roof, would have never seen the crane. I was busy driving along a very uncertain dirt track. We see so many Grey Heron at Nanhui, and it is so easy to disregard them, and sure enough two of the three birds flying together were Grey Heron. But one was not, and Elaine caught it.
Elaine got her first pair of binoculars in 2013 and is now making big discoveries. “You’ve come a long way, baby!”
Thanks to Shanghai birder Xiao Cao for his knowledge of species histories in Shanghai. It was he who told us that our Hooded Crane was a first record for mainland Shanghai.
JACK SNIPE AT IRON TRACK
The experience with Jack Snipe occurred Saturday near dark at Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883). Our partner Michael Grunwell, Elaine, and I were looking for Brown-cheeked Rail. The snipe sneezed when flushed, flew to a towering height in a tighter formation than is typical in Common Snipe, and after all the fuss ended up landing only 150 m from where they had started.
When the snipe began their flight, I figured they were Common and continued looking for rails. Then I heard Michael cry out, “Possible Jack!” The snipe flew directly over us. The bill was noticeably shorter than the bill of the Common I have come to know. Elaine too saw the short bill.
The three of us feel confident in our record of Jack Snipe and urge others to be on the lookout for this species. Get pictures if you can.
Iron Track is part of the extensive reed-bed habitat lining the Dazhi River (大治河). It provides excellent habitat for Chinese Pond Heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Brown-cheeked Rail (and possibly Water Rail), wintering Bluethroat, and wintering Jack Snipe. Reed Parrotbill is resident.
The beds are on either side of the river, are unlikely to be developed, and are in good condition. They are a remnant of the habitat that used to cover the entire area.
YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTING IN SHANGHAI
As reported above, on Saturday with Michael and yet again on Sunday our site near Luchao delivered Yellow-breasted Bunting. The site is at 30.850694, 121.863667. We are now five-for-five in sightings of Yellow-breasted Bunting since our Nov. 5 discovery of the species there.
It will be interesting to see how long into the winter the Yellow-breasted Bunting remain. I hope they stay awhile, because it is unlikely any of the locals will catch ’n’ roast ’em. (The greatest factor in the endangerment of Emberiza aureola is massive poaching of the species for snacks in south China.)
Recently the site has yielded Black-browed Reed Warbler and Chestnut-eared Bunting and a late record of Barn Swallow. An un-ID’d rail has been spotted twice in the area.
To get to the site, from Luchao drive 1.5 km north from the bend in the road north of the canal, where the road begins to run parallel with the sea. Pull onto the unpaved track and park on the bridge of white cement. The buntings seem to be concentrated a few dozen meters south, near the place where picnickers dumped a big load of trash. Be on the lookout for individuals flying into the narrow reed bed after foraging runs in the adjacent rice paddies.
ID’ING BROWN-CHEEKED RAIL ON CALL
On Sunday at Nanhui we positively identified 2 Brown-cheeked Rail on call. Here is the recording I made (00:28; 2.7 MB):
The pitch matches closely the pitch in the recordings by Anon Torimi of rails assigned to Rallus indicus. I downloaded Torimi’s recordings from xeno-canto.org. I invite Shanghai birders to do the same. Get to know the sounds of both R. indicus and the extralimital R. aquaticus and start adding these species to your own Shanghai lists.
AMUR FALCON CATCHING GNATS
On Saturday we were amazed to see Amur Falcon catching flies with their talons. We had five near Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074). In top left of the three-panel photo above, the falcon has spotted its prey and is accelerating toward it. In bottom left, the gnat is visible as the falcon zeroes in. At right, the falcon raises its talons for its tiny prey.
The instinct to use its talons is inefficient in this case and shows that Amur Falcon has evolved to hunt larger game. Smaller aerialists such as swifts, nightjars, swallows, and flycatchers snatch up their prey directly with the mouth.
PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF CONSERVATIONISM
I saw the car with lettering saying “Pudong TV” and waved the journalists over. I told them I had something they might want to hear. Echoing my recent post Save Nanhui, I told the pair that Shanghai can have it all. It can be a world financial hub and China’s greatest metropolis and be a green city. It can follow Hong Kong and Singapore and develop a world-class urban wetland reserve easily accessible to nature lovers without their own car. Nanhui’s old wetland, I said, pointing to the defunct reserve behind us, could be the site of such a reserve.
As I talked, a small crowd gathered. Most seemed supportive of my ideas. I was not surprised. A world-class wetland at Nanhui is a basic conservationist idea, and basic conservationist ideas have broad appeal.
The flycatcher was attracted by mealworms speared by photographers onto a soft steel wire. The wire was hung from a branch, enticing the flycatcher to hover to snatch the bait. The bird was appearing every 10 minutes.
I expressed concern but did not feel the need to be critical or intervene. The photographers obviously liked the flycatcher, did not think that they were harming it, and were enjoying themselves immensely.
I watched the flycatcher attack the mealworms. I think it unlikely that the wire would harm the bird. The bigger problem may be that the free protein will keep the bird here an unnaturally long time. A passage migrant through Earth’s largest city, Narcissus Flycatcher should be in Borneo by now.
INTERESTING WECHAT EXCHANGE ON ARCTIC WARBLER
Shanghai Birding is the WeChat companion to shanghaibirding.com. In it, we exchange real-time reports and engage in discussions about birding in Shanghai and all China.
A discussion on 10 Nov. about Arctic Warbler showed the utility to birders of social media in general and Shanghai Birding in particular. Members Jonathan Martinez (based in Shenzhen) and Paul Holt (based in Beijing) shared their knowledge about Arctic Warbler and its sister species. In so doing, they shed light on the situation, still very imperfectly understood, of the Arctic-type complex in Shanghai.
Holt led off:
Paul Holt (PH): I see from a recent posting that @李伟 photographed an Arctic Warbler at Nanhui on the 28 October. Great images! Isn’t that extremely late? The latest ever Beijing record’s over two weeks earlier than that.
I then posted a long list of my Arctic-type records from autumn 2014 and autumn 2015. In the list, I bunched together all members of the Arctic Warbler Complex (Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis borealis and P. b. kennicotti, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler P. examinandus, and Japanese Leaf Warbler P. xanthodryas). I list all three species because, although it is presumed that the vast majority of spring and autumn records in Shanghai pertain to borealis, it is far from certain what the proportions are. (Arctic Warbler and its sister species are nearly impossible to separate on morphology but are distinguishable by voice.)
The latest autumn record I had of an Arctic-type warbler was 24 Oct. (2015).
Holt wrote back:
PH: Thanks @Craig (大山雀) Unless I’m missing something 28 October is later than any of the records you cite (but just by four days). Could it be that the Nanhui sighting is Shanghai’s latest ever? Also it’s interesting that you mention all three species. Have any of your region’s Arctic-types been identified to a species other than borealis?
Craig Brelsford (CB): @Paul Holt I have not recorded anything other than borealis around Shanghai. (All confirmed borealis records are of individuals singing in spring.) I also suspect that a record of xanthodryas is next to impossible in Shanghai. I am aware that citing all three names is not a perfect solution. I list all three species because I believe information is insufficient. No one knows how many Arctic-type in Shanghai are borealis and how many examinandus. Very basic facts about the species in east-central China are unclear. Maybe someday studies will confirm that an Arctic-type in east-central China is borealis, with a probability of 99%. In that case, I would probably assign any silent Arctic-type I saw to borealis. Do you have any suggestions?
A few minutes later, I added:
CB: Just remembered that Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I had Arctic-type this past Sat. 5 Nov. We got a good look at the bird, too. October was a warm, wet month in Shanghai, and the entire fall migration season seems to be late a week or two. Would others here agree?
PH: I’ve never seen xanthodryas in mainland China, have only ever encountered two examinandus (which were the first records for Liaoning & Hebei. Both sound recorded) here & have too little to go on I’m afraid @Craig (大山雀). Personally I log everything as Arctic Warbler by default, though that’s far from perfect. Until more of us work on this awkward group & make an effort to sound-record them, it’ll be a long time yet before a truer picture of their patterns of occurrence emerges. Cracking late record last weekend @Craig (大山雀). Surely that must be a good candidate for being the latest ever.
CB: @Paul Holt Maybe for simplicity’s sake I should log everything as Arctic. I have hesitated because I dislike speculation, and besides your very reliable records from up north I have little else to go on.
At this Martinez came in with his south-China perspective:
Jonathan Martinez (JM): I’ve heard xanthodryas on Fujian coast in early May and had a bird caught in October at Xitou identified as xanthodryas by DNA on tail feathers among about 15 borealis. I found an examinandus in central Guangxi in September, first suspected by call on a bird wave and clearly identified with call a few days later. I suspect examinandus is not a coastal migrant and probably goes through mainland China. I think still the only species recorded in Hong Kong is borealis, despite many looking for these.
CB: Thanks! With a confirmed xanthodryas in Fujian and examinandus only “suspected” not to use the Chinese coast, I’ll keep my clunky three-species listing. Arctic-type Warbler in China is a subject crying out for more research.
Did you know that the birding area at Nanhui is a cape? This is an aspect of Nanhui that perhaps requires more discussion. The 30-km stretch of coastline is the southeastern-most point of Pudong as well as of the entire city-province of Shanghai.
Cape Nanhui (I like the ring of that) juts out between the mouth of the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. The cape aspect of Nanhui makes it even more valuable to migrating birds than regular coastline. Nanhui is a stepping stone, catching birds that have just made a non-stop crossing of the mouth of the Yangtze River (in fall) or a non-stop crossing of Hangzhou Bay (in spring).
I also find it interesting that one never hears of the “Shanghai Peninsula.” It’s a term with explanatory power. Although rather nubby, the Shanghai Peninsula is clearly a promontory between the mouth of the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the promontory.
If conservationists talk about a nature reserve for “Cape Nanhui,” the tip of the “Shanghai Peninsula,” then maybe they will have a stronger case.
A NOTE FROM TOMMY PEDERSEN
Tommy Pedersen is a pilot with Emirates. He is Norwegian and has been based in Dubai for many years. An accomplished birder, Tommy created uaebirding.com. This outstanding site is the best introduction to birding in the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Peninsula.
Tommy recently sent a message to shanghaibirding.com:
I had a work flight to Shanghai 9-11 November 2016, and following Craig’s excellent site, I decided to visit Nanhui.
I booked a room at Holiday Inn Express (no English spoken, cold and drafty rooms), close to the Magic Parking Lot and Nanhui Nature Reserve. Two targets: Saunders’s Gull and Reed Parrotbill.
On Day 1, 9 November, I was extremely lucky and bumped into Craig and Elaine with Erica, who took me to the nature reserve. We had a jolly good time (at least I was), and Saunders’s Gulls were soon spotted (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32503941).
Gadwall Anas strepera 8
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 30
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 8
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 150
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 2
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Cormorant Eurasian Phalacrocorax carbo 40
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 100
Great Egret A. alba 30
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 60
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 17
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 15
Eurasian/Black-faced Spoonbill P. leucorodia/minor 30
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 2
Water/Brown-cheeked Rail R. aquaticus/indicus 3
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 3
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 4
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 3
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 14
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 2
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus 80
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 5
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 3
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 3
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3
Amur Falcon F. amurensis 1
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1 Falco sp. 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 40
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 1 singing
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 8
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus 4
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 18
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 4
Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 4
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 18
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 35
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 10
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 7
Japanese Thrush Turdus cardis 5
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 6
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 4
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 19
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 18
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 150
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana 8
White Wagtail M. alba 14
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens 80
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 7
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 2
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 3
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 3
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 14
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 16
List 1 of 1 for Tues. 15 Nov. 2016 (16 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Changning District, Shanghai. Partly cloudy. Low 12° C, high 17° C. Humidity 62%. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 93 (moderate). Sunrise 06:22, sunset 16:55. TUE 15 NOV 2016 13:00-15:00. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 5
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 1
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 3
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 4
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 3
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 4
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 2
Today, 5 May 2016, I got my first-ever record of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. The bird was singing on the tiny island at the little central pond (31.224111, 121.414194) at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai. Singing nearby was Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. These lookalike species were two of the seven species of passage migrant I noted, the others being Ashy Minivet, Yellow-browed Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, at least one Turdus sp. that was not Chinese Blackbird, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Narcissus Flycatcher, and Mugimaki Flycatcher.
I saw a Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, pulled out my iPhone, and played back a recording of Pale-legged. I got no response. I played Sakhalin for a while, got no response, then stopped. I knew not to walk away, but wait. As Shanghai is outside the breeding range of both species, their urge to sing may not be strong, but it is May and the testosterone is flowing. A response may come after a lag.
I was standing at the edge of the little pond, admiring Narcissus Flycatcher. My brain was barely registering the normal background noise being made by Japanese Tit, Light-vented Bulbul, Chinese Blackbird, Chinese Grosbeak, caged Chinese Hwamei, and old folks practicing qigong. Suddenly from the din came an anomalous sound. I trained my attention to the high-pitched whistle. Sakhalin! My playback had apparently been heard and had attracted a Sakhalin to the tree on the island closest to me on the “mainland.” I glimpsed the bird but saw nothing in its plumage or bare parts to tell it from Pale-legged. In the field, the only reliable element separating the two species is song. Sakhalin makes a three-note whistle, very different from the cricket-like trill of Pale-legged. The three-note whistle is exactly what I was hearing.
After a few minutes, the singing stopped, and then, as if on cue, the trill of Pale-legged surged out from the foliage. I again played back Pale-legged recordings and this time got an immediate and very strong response. Making the “tink” call, a Pale-legged flew to my side of the pond and lingered in trees near me. The tink is apparently similar to that of Sakhalin and therefore not a reliable separator. But soon the tink was followed by another trill, and I knew I was looking at Pale-legged.
What luck! There I was, in the middle of Earth’s largest city, hearing the songs of two East Asian leaf warblers, one of them (Sakhalin) little-known. Does urban birding get any better than this?
I sound-recorded both species. In all, one can hear the din from a busy inner-city park. In the first of the two song fragments of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, among the species heard in the background is Ashy Minivet.
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Song Fragments 1/2 (00:51; 2.8 MB)
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Song Fragments 2/2 (00:36; 2.2 MB)
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Trill (00:03; 922 KB)
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Tink (00:15; 1.4 MB)
Thanks to Jan-Erik Nilsén, Jonathan Martinez, and Jason Loghry for their help in today’s project.
List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 5 May 2016 (17 species). Birds noted at Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Cloudy; low 19° C, high 24° C. Visibility 3 km. Wind SSE 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 132 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:05, sunset 18:37. THU 05 MAY 2016 06:10-08:15. Craig Brelsford.
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 8
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 4
Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus 8
Japanese Tit Parus minor 5 (2 begging fledglings)
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 7 (1 singing)
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes 1 singing
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides 1 singing
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 17 (4 fledglings) Turdus sp. 4 making tseep call high in trees
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 2
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina 1
Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 5
Featured image: Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes/borealoides, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, China, 1 May 2014. Some authors note subtle differences in plumage and structure, but the features overlap, making non-singing Pale-legged and Sakhalin virtually indistinguishable in the field. The species pair is distinguishable from other leaf warblers by their very pale, pink legs. The species pump the tail steadily and often cling to tree trunks, somewhat like a nuthatch. Pale-legged breeds in the Russian Far East and northeast China; Sakhalin breeds on Sakhalin Island and in Japan. Photo by Craig Brelsford and taken from archives of craigbrelsford.com.
Elaine and I noted 112 species over May Day weekend 2016. We did island birding on Lesser Yangshan, coastal birding at Nanhui, and inner-city birding at Zhongshan Park. Highlights were 26 Pechora Pipit, 6 of them singing, plus (Japanese) Yellow Bunting and 2 endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting at Nanhui. Nanhui also gave us 3 Chinese Egret, a rare view of Large Hawk-Cuckoo, endangered Far Eastern Curlew and 4 near-threatened Curlew Sandpiper, and high-value passage migrants such as Chinese Sparrowhawk, Asian Stubtail, Brown-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Chestnut Bunting. Lesser Yangshan yielded 2 Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Greater Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, 18 near-threatened Grey-tailed Tattler, 2 Broad-billed Sandpiper, and Taiga Flycatcher. Seasonal firsts were numerous and included Little Tern, Dusky Warbler, and Black-browed Reed Warbler at Nanhui and Grey-streaked Flycatcher on Lesser Yangshan. On Sat. 30 April and Sun. 1 May we birded with veteran English birder Michael Grunwell.
On Saturday near Microforest 2 at Nanhui, Michael enjoyed his first views of Pechora Pipit in 26 years while Elaine and I enjoyed our second view in a week of this scarce passage migrant. Those views were just a prelude to the excitement of Sunday. Again at Nanhui, driving along the sea-wall road, we began finding Pechoras. Some of them were singing; two of them were sparring. We decided to make a survey of this scarce passage migrant. Driving slowly from the Holiday Inn north, we scanned the thickly vegetated inner base of the sea wall. Thousands of trees have been planted there recently, giving the Pechoras perches and making them easier to see. We counted 26. Here is the song I recorded of Pechora Pipit (00:27; 1.9 MB):
Saturday began with a 4 a.m. pickup of Michael and 90-minute drive to Lesser Yangshan. We went first to Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873). Accidental Marsh is several hectares of newly formed wetland created by the construction of a causeway linking Lesser Yangshan and Dazhitou Island. Besides the waders noted above, we found singing Oriental Reed Warbler, and we rejoiced because for a change we had found a place where the reed-bed habitat of that species is expanding, rather than contracting, as is so often the case on the beleaguered Chinese coast. Another interesting record there was Black-collared Starling, uncommon in the Shanghai region. Moving to Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), we found Black Drongo and the Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover. On the half-destroyed Garbage Dump Coastal Plain next to the Gully, we met a lone Pacific Golden Plover.
We drove back to the mainland and remained at Nanhui the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday. We noticed once again that the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489) and nearby areas are turning into a circus, especially on holiday weekends. Upwards of 300 cars are parked there at midday, and though the Parking Lot is an effective migrant trap, on weekends in good weather birding the Lot is difficult after 9 a.m.
In light of the new popularity of the Lot as well as the continued flattening of the local reed beds, we are looking for new areas to bird. We found a place we are calling South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106). South Lock is the area around the place where the S2 expressway meets the mainland. A sluice gate is nearby, hence the name. On Saturday, trees at South Lock were holding Eastern Crowned Warbler, a species beloved by Michael, and the adjacent ponds and marshes held waders and buntings and gave us our only weekend record of Grey Wagtail. A stop there on Sunday morning gave us our Dusky Warbler. South Lock looks good and because so near the freeway may remain undeveloped. Another new area for us is South Lawn (midpoint at 30.849840, 121.897953), a stretch of grassy land at the inner base of the sea wall north of Luchao (Lúcháo Gǎng [芦潮港]). There we found flocks of Eastern Yellow Wagtail containing members of the nominate race as well as taivana.
All four of our views of Siberian Blue Robin occurred in the Nanhui microforests. In Shanghai, Sibe Blue offers a good example of how migrant traps work. This species will spend the summer in thick cover in the great forests of northeastern China, the Russian Far East, Sakhalin Island, and Japan. It is a master skulker. Flying up the Nanhui coast, with its dearth of forest cover, a Sibe Blue sees the microforests the same way a tired traveler sees a hotel after a long day on the road. In the Nanhui microforests, now thickly carpeted with daisies and grasses, watch your step! Tired migrants such as Asian Stubtail, Sibe Blue, Rufous-tailed Robin, and Pale Thrush will wait until your foot is inches away before exploding out.
May Day is arguably the height of migration season in the Shanghai region. On sunny, warm days such as Sunday, the stimulation is constant, and exciting moments are many. Here is just one of many anecdotes: Nanhui, Sunday morning. Through Michael’s spotting scope I am enjoying a view of an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting that he and Elaine found. As I watch, a Pechora Pipit jumps into the circular view and drives the bunting away. An endangered bunting being chased away by a scarce passage migrant! Wow! Then Michael calls out that he has just seen a raptor. The bird disappears, and we get into our rented Buick and drive toward the trees into which it vanished. As we drive, out jumps Large Hawk-Cuckoo! Three rare Shanghai records in the space of five minutes!
The view of Yellow Bunting was team birding at its best. We were driving slowly on the semi-abandoned low road discovered a few months back by Michael. (The starting point of this road, which leads inland from a point behind the Magic Parking Lot, is 30.885592, 121.967369.) As we drove, we were kicking up foraging buntings, mainly Black-faced Bunting. Elaine and I, sitting up front, were the first to notice an anomaly: a yellow-shaded bunting with a mustache and goatee. It had to be Yellow Bunting! The bird disappeared. Michael and Elaine were going for a lifer, so we had to work carefully. We stopped the car and walked up and down the road, six eyeballs searching for the rare migrant. Elaine found it! Michael and I came running. Luckily for us, the bunting had found a feeding area it liked; it was loath to leave the road. Michael was ecstatic as he set up his spotting scope and watched the bunting feed.
On Thurs. 28 April, Elaine and I did a quick walk-through at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. The park is more than a hundred years old, has many tall trees, and offers some of the best mid-sized urban-park birding in Earth’s largest city. Zhongshan holds sentimental value for me because it is where I ticked Elaine as a lifer (i.e., I met her there).
Our visit of less than two hours brought Elaine and me six passage migrants: Yellow-browed Warbler, Sakhalin/Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Tristram’s Bunting. A seventh, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, was reported by another birder.
The focal point at Zhongshan is the little central pond (31.224111, 121.414194). On Thursday all 3 Narcissus Flycatcher were noted there, among them a female, as well as our Eastern Crowned Warbler and Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. A tiny island in the center of the pond is almost cat-free (some cats do make the jump) and contains several large trees. Thanks to the nearly daily presence there of bird photographer Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), the central pond is an information clearinghouse; Mr. Wang and his buddies are always eager to tell you what they have been seeing lately.
List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 28 April 2016 (17 species). Birds noted at Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Mostly cloudy; low 13° C, high 22° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NW 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 171 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:11, sunset 18:32. THU 28 APR 2016 16:15-17:55. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.
Birds noted on Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327), & Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873), an area of reclaimed land between Lesser Yangshan & Dazhitou Island (Dà Zhǐtou Dǎo [大指头岛]). Sunny. Low 14° C, high 24° C. Wind S 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 109 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:09, sunset 18:34. SAT 30 APR 2016 05:30-10:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 5
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 5
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 4
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 8
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 3
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 41
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 20
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 1
Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus 1
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 20
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 5
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 7
Grey-tailed Tattler T. brevipes 18
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 6
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Sanderling Calidris alba 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 10
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 15
Dunlin C. alpina 30
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 1
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos 3
Japanese Tit Parus minor 4
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 100
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 5 singing
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler H. fortipes 3 singing
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 3
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 10
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 6
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 5
Black-collared Starling Gracupica nigricollis 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 7
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 2 singing
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 1
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 15
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 2
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 2
Tristram’s Bunting E. tristrami 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2