Editor’s note: Daniel Bengtsson (the tall guy next to me) is a former Shanghai resident, a frequent visitor to Earth’s Greatest City, and an avid birder. Daniel left his mark on Shanghai birding with his Century Park All-time Bird List, which he began compiling in 2008. The list stands at 135 species, almost all of them recorded first by Daniel, and is the best record ever made of the birds of a major Shanghai park.
In this guest post, Daniel’s first for shanghaibirding.com, Daniel discusses the birding side of his latest trip to China. He introduces us to two important locations in Fujian: Ziyun Cun, a forest site good for Cabot’s Tragopan, and the Minjiang estuary, breeding area of the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern. With Daniel’s piece, plus my work on Emeifeng, Shanghai birders have a growing list of resources with which to plan their own Fujian trip. — Craig Brelsford
As I spent more than two years in Shanghai over a five-year period (2006-2010), and since Shanghai is the birthplace of my wife and daughter, this huge city will always be my second home–a bit unlikely, perhaps, considering I was raised in the Swedish countryside.
My daughter is now 8, which means that we are limited to Christmas and summer breaks to visit the Shanghainese side of our family. We did our latest summer trip this past June and July.
Any time I’m in Shanghai, I visit Century Park, my “home spot” which I birded more than 50 times back in 2008. This past summer, I birded the park twice, on 23 and 29 June.
In contrast to other parts of Shanghai, Century Park has undergone little change over the years. This time, however, I noticed that Oriental Magpie-Robin had moved in. Other records of interest were singing Indian Cuckoo (2 birds seen), Eurasian Hoopoe with 2 fledged chicks, and Asian Brown Flycatcher (difficult to know whether it had already been to the breeding grounds and returned south or whether it had been delayed and was on its way north).
To add more birding flavor to the visit, I asked my wife and daughter to do a family-plus-birding trip with me to Fujian. On 5 July we flew from Pudong Airport to Sanming in western Fujian. We were picked up and driven to Ziyun Cun (紫云村, 26.359541, 117.492287). Like Emeifeng 80 km to the west, Ziyun Cun, elev. 800 m, lies in hilly, thickly forested, sparsely populated country. The peaceful village of 1,000 inhabitants was a welcome contrast to hot and humid Shanghai.
We stayed in a small family hotel which offered nice rooms and fresh, self-produced food at a very reasonable price. Both driver and hotel were arranged by birder Xiao Yang (小杨, +86 158-5982-8858). His parents run the hotel.
Among birders and photographers, Ziyun Cun is well-known for the temple on one of the nearby hilltops, often providing both Cabot’s Tragopan and Elliot’s Pheasant. Although Elliot’s Pheasant did not show during the two days I spent in the area, I got fine views of the tragopan as well as of Silver Pheasant and Chinese Bamboo Partridge.
Bird activity was low, and it was obvious that it was long gone into the breeding season. Though birds were calling little, I did manage to hear White-necklaced Partridge, Chinese Barbet, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler. Bay Woodpecker and Rufous Woodpecker showed nicely.
Night birds were more active. By walking from the village to the temple (1.5 km) before dawn, I heard Collared Scops Owl, Oriental Scops Owl, Collared Owlet, Asian Barred Owlet, and Grey Nightjar.
For 50 RMB another driver took us to the temple by car. This was a good deal when bringing my wife and daughter, since they would not have been too happy walking the steep track from the paved road up to the temple. Alongside the temple track, a stairway leads down to a different side of the hill. This side has better forest, and most of the birds were here.
On the last morning, Xiao Yang’s father took me to a private hide at the base of the hill, where the better forest begins. Apparently this is too low for Elliot’s Pheasant, but it is reliable for Silver Pheasant (and sometimes Cabot’s Tragopan). The deal was that I would pay 100 RMB if I got to photograph either the pheasant or tragopan. (I recommend paying anyway, since this is a good way of supporting ecotourism!) The same deal goes for the hide at the temple.
After two nights in Ziyun Cun, we were driven back to Sanming. We were dropped off at the train station and took the high-speed train to Fuzhou.
Two mornings later, on 9 July, through the kind arrangements of the Fujian Bird Watching Society, I was picked up for a two-hour drive to the Minjiang estuary (26.023600, 119.653200). The Minjiang estuary is the only reliable site in mainland China for the critically endangeredChinese Crested Tern, a species whose total world population probably does not exceed 50. The mudflats are also important as a stopover site for many waders, among them the critically endangeredSpoon-billed Sandpiper. Another bird of interest to Shanghai-based birders is White-faced Plover Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus, a member of the Kentish Plover clade. At Fuzhou it is probably close to the northern border of its breeding range.
Foreign visitors need a permit to enter the protected area. The fee of 1,000 RMB may seem high, but if it can help protect the mudflats and the birds relying on them for survival, then it is money well-spent.
Chinese Crested Tern breeds on islets in the Taiwan Strait. For bathing and drinking, the terns use the brackish water close to the mouth of the Minjiang River. They don’t come every day, though, and not outside the breeding season, which lasts from April to September. In fact, the rest of our party had tried the previous day without success. On this day, we were lucky to have 1 adult Chinese Crested Tern join the rest of the roosting terns. It stayed for less than an hour before taking off again, swooping down to drink a couple of times then heading for the strait.
Other terns of interest were a couple of briefly visiting Bridled Tern as well as a few Roseate Tern (in both breeding and non-breeding plumages). Along with Common Tern, Little Tern, Greater Crested Tern, Whiskered Tern, and White-winged Tern, it all added up to eight species of terns in one day–a record for me.
The shoreline also provided 9 Black-faced Spoonbill and various species of wader, among them Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Pacific Golden Plover, and Greater Sand Plover. Some Sanderling and Red-necked Stint were in full breeding plumage, so I guess they had already made it up to the Arctic tundra and back.
Thinking of the amazing journeys these small creatures perform twice a year, and with the rarest of all species of tern in the bag, I strolled pleasantly through the muddy channels (helped by my waterproof sandals and zip-off trousers). The next morning we got on the high-speed train, and four and a half hours later we were back in Shanghai.
Featured image: Daniel Bengtsson and Craig Brelsford pose with their families. L-R: Daniel’s wife, Zhao Qing (赵清); Daniel Bengtsson; Daniel and Qing’s daughter, Linnea; Craig Brelsford; and Craig’s wife, Elaine Du. Shanghai, 2 July 2017.
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.
Here are images of birds more commonly noted in the Shanghai region.
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.
After days of rain, we were rewarded with this moon-set at dawn on 26 Feb.
We noted 170 species of bird at Dulong. One of the best was Grandala.
For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was Craig’s Bird of the Trip.
Birds have plenty of places to hide in the thickly vegetated Dulong Gorge. Sometimes we got lucky, as with this Chestnut-headed Tesia.
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 Partridge was commonly noted in eastern Yushu Prefecture.
Another great chicken: White Eared Pheasant.
At desolate Hala Lake, elev. 4077 m, we found Tibetan Sandgrouse.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch is hardy. It thrives at high elevations.
Henderson’s Ground Jay is master of arid scrubland …
… while Isabelline Wheatear is master of the semi-deserts of Wulan County.
We had great partners in Qinghai. One of them was Michael Grunwell.
Landscapes in Qinghai are beyond beautiful. Here are my favorites.
A closer look at the dunes.
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.
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.
Mandarin Duck breed in Boli County. We found this drake in a small pool deep in Xidaquan Forest.
In the Manchurian forest, woodpeckers abound. The most common species is White-backed Woodpecker.
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.
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.
At Eling Lake in Qinghai, where the Yellow River and China are born, Elaine and I posed for this self-portrait.
Elaine is a little short, but she never gives up. In Dulong Gorge, she improvised a way to see Grandala, a life bird.
Elaine is proud of the remnant Manchurian forest near her home in Boli. Here we are in front of a stand of Silver Birch.
People like Elaine’s family put food on the table for the city folks.
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.
Editor’s note: With more and more birders operating in Shanghai, more and more vagrant birds are bound to be discovered. One possibility is Blyth’s Pipit (photo above, L), a species similar to our familiar Richard’s Pipit (R). In this post, I will teach you how to separate the two.
2016 has been an outstanding birding year in Earth’s largest city. Paddyfield Warbler/Manchurian Reed Warbler, seen at Cape Nanhui on 18 Dec., was the latest in a parade of rare visitors seen in Shanghai in 2016.
The reason for the surge in good records, I am convinced, is more birders with better skills communicating more effectively. I am proud to say that shanghaibirding.com and the Shanghai Birding WeChat group have played a role.
In the Shanghai area, one species that has not yet been reported is Blyth’s Pipit. Anthus godlewskii breeds mainly in Mongolia, occurs on passage in central China, and winters mainly in India, so any records here would be of extralimitals. It is just the sort of vagrant that a bigger and better birding community could discover here in Shanghai.
The key to getting a Blyth’s in Shanghai is paying attention to the many Richard’s Pipit that we see in the area. Anthus richardi is more or less a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is recorded here regularly in spring and autumn. Some are present in winter; Elaine Du and I had a “sinensis” last week, the ID’ing of which led to this post.
Richard’s “sinensis” is very similar to Blyth’s, being best told by song, which is rarely heard in the Shanghai area. According to Per Alström et al., whose book Pipits and Wagtails is the authority on Palearctic and Nearctic pipits, the song of Blyth’s is “very characteristic and completely different from [that] of Richard’s” (242). During a trip in July 2015 to the Inner Mongolian prefecture of Hulunbeier, one of the few places in China where Blyth’s breeds, I recorded the song.
Blyth’s Pipit, flight song, recorded 22 July 2015 at a point (48.767866, 116.834183) near Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia (2.1 MB; 00:32)
The calls of the two species also differ, but less markedly. The flight call of Richard’s is a common bird sound in Shanghai during migration season. The call of Blyth’s is similar enough to “cause problems even for some veteran observers” (Alström et al. 244). For Shanghai birders, even those unfamiliar with Blyth’s, a “Richard’s” with a strange flight call is worth your attention. Listen for what Alström et al. describe as a call “less harsh, softer and more nasal” than Richard’s (244). For reference, review the flight call of Richard’s:
Regarding plumage, the most reliable differentiator of Richard’s and Blyth’s is the pattern of the median coverts. In Blyth’s, a typical adult-type median covert will show well-defined, squarish black centers. In Richard’s, the adult-type median coverts are less clear-cut, rufous-tinged, and triangular. Note that the fresher the plumage, the more reliable this differentiator is.
Another less reliable criterion is structure. Shanghai birders will agree that the first impression a non-“sinensis” Richard’s usually gives is “large pipit.” Other pipits, such as Buff-bellied Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, and Olive-backed Pipit, give a “small pipit” impression.
Alström et al. say, and I having seen Blyth’s can concur, that a birder viewing Blyth’s will get a “small pipit” impression: “The smaller size, lighter build and shorter tail,” the authors write, “are often most apparent in flight, when [Blyth’s] often recalls one of the smaller pipits rather than Richard’s.” Note also that the smaller size and shorter bill, tail, and hind claw of Blyth’s give that species a “better proportioned” look than the larger and heavier Richard’s (237).
The directions above should be seen as guidelines; individual Richard’s and Blyth’s may defy easy categorization, “sinensis” Richard’s even more so. Alström et al. caution against jumping the gun with your ID: “It is crucial to realise that in both species (especially Richard’s) appearance can vary considerably in one and the same individual depending on mood, weather, etc.,” they write. “Also, some Richard’s are structurally very like Blyth’s; this is especially true of southern Chinese Richard’s (‘sinensis’)” (237).
A record of Blyth’s Pipit in Shanghai would shoot to the top of the “Year’s Best” list. The stakes are high, so look diligently, and use caution. Good luck!
PADDYFIELD WARBLER/MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER
On 18 Dec. 2016, a quartet of teenage birders found an acrocephalid in the Magic Parking Lot at Cape Nanhui. The photos by Komatsu Yasuhiko provoked discussion on the WeChat group Shanghai Birding. The consensus is that the bird is either Paddyfield WarblerAcrocephalus agricola or Manchurian Reed WarblerA. tangorum.
In the images above, note the supercilium, which extends behind the eye; dark eye-line; bright white chin and throat; peach breast band and flanks; bill with black upper mandible and pink lower mandible; and peaked head. Those criteria most closely indicate Manchurian Reed Warbler and Paddyfield Warbler.
Paddyfield Warbler winters mainly in India and would be extralimital here; Manchurian Reed Warbler breeds in northeastern China, is listed as Vulnerable and is therefore scarce, and probably passes through Shanghai.
Congratulations to Andy Lee, Komatsu Yasuhiko, Larry Chen, and Archie Jiang for this great Shanghai record.
INTERVIEW WITH PUDONG TV
On Thurs. 15 Dec. at Cape Nanhui my wife Elaine Du and I did an interview with Pudong TV in Chinese. The segment will last five minutes and be aired later this month. In the interview I lamented the losses at Nanhui and spoke glowingly of the possibilities.
Meanwhile, John MacKinnon, co-author of the most famous bird guide in the history of China and author of a recent post for shanghaibirding.com, has expressed interest in the establishment of an easily accessible, world-class wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui.
MacKinnon asked me for the reasoning behind a wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui. I wrote the following:
THE CASE FOR AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE, WORLD-CLASS WETLAND RESERVE AT CAPE NANHUI, PUDONG, SHANGHAI
(1) Cape Nanhui is of extraordinary environmental importance. The tip of the Shanghai Peninsula between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay, Cape Nanhui is a stepping stone for birds migrating across those bodies of water. Cape Nanhui also holds large reed beds, habitat critical to Reed Parrotbill, Marsh Grassbird, and other species at risk.
The largest component of the city-province of Shanghai is the Shanghai Peninsula, a projection of land between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the peninsula, is a critically important stop for migrating birds, and is completely unprotected. A nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a third stepping stone for birds crossing the mouth of the Yangtze, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha.
(2) Shanghai is clearly under-performing on the conservationist front. More must be done, and a good place to begin is Cape Nanhui.
Nature reserves have been established only on the extreme fringes of the city-province (which is a third the size of Wales). There are no reserves in mainland Pudong, a giant coastal district nearly twice the size of Singapore. Nowhere in this megalopolis can residents without a car enjoy the natural side of Shanghai, a city with an extraordinarily rich natural heritage. There is no known plan to conserve any of the dozens of square kilometers of reclaimed land on Hengsha.
(3) Because it is in the back yard of Shanghai, a city-province of more than 25 million people, a well-run, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could be the match to light the fire of conservation across all China.
Hundreds of thousands of middle-class children could visit the reserve with their parents using nothing more than the Metro and a quick taxi ride and be sleeping in their own bed that night, dreaming about the wild birds they had seen that day. For millions of parents and their kids, the weekend could be “Saturday, Disney; Sunday, Cape Nanhui Wetland.” A day at a Cape Nanhui Wetland would be an early introduction to the glories of natural Shanghai and would foster an appreciation of the natural world.
If Shanghai can be a world economic center and have world-class airports and a world-class skyline and world-class entertainment such as Disney, then it can and must have an easily accessible, world-class reserve protecting its priceless coastline, reed beds, and migratory birds.
A world-class, easily accessible, wetland nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would become a mecca for birders and achieve world renown, as has been the case with similar reserves such as Mai Po at Hong Kong and Sungei Buloh in Singapore.
Alström, Per, Krister Mild & Bill Zetterström. Pipits and Wagtails. Princeton University Press, 2003. This landmark book, co-authored by Shanghai Birding member Per Alström, is my first reference on all things Motacillidae.
Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, 2009. Serviceable descriptions of Blyth’s Pipit and Richard’s Pipit. Illustration of “sinensis.” Good coverage of Paddyfield Warbler, Manchurian Reed Warbler.
Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. Pipits and reed warblers discussed in detail. To join Shanghai Birding, fill out the form on our Sightings page.
Kennerley, Peter & David Pearson. Reed and Bush Warblers. Christopher Helm, 2010. The world standard on Acrocephalidae, Cettiidae, and Locustellidae.
Svensson, Lars & Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 1999-2009. Outstanding illustrations of Richard’s Pipit and Blyth’s Pipit by Mullarney.
Editor’s note: The photos above record the moment when I first beheld Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The date was 23 Aug. 2011; the place was Yangkou, a major stopover point for Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Jiangsu; and the bird was this adult, still with a considerable amount of its rufous breeding plumage. Since then I have had numerous encounters with the critically endangered species. The most recent was Thurs. 3 Nov. 2016, when I achieved one of my most sustained views (nearly 30 minutes) and first view in Shanghai of one of the rarest vertebrates on the planet. In this post, I describe the encounter at Cape Nanhui with Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and I decorate the post with photos I have taken of the species over the years. — Craig Brelsford
On Thurs. 3 Nov. 2016 Elaine Du and I found Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Cape Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Pudong. A single SBS was associating with a flock of 2600 waders in mud near the entrance to the defunct nature reserve. The SBS site is 4.3 km north of the Holiday Inn, and its coordinates are 30.921616, 121.969776.
I have been viewing Spoon-billed Sandpiper a few times each year since 2011. Since 2013, Elaine has been with me. We know what to look for, and at this time of year when we see a large flock of small waders, the possibility of finding Spoon-billed Sandpiper is always on our mind.
Seated, as is my wont, on the access road, my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope atop my tripod in front of me, I was scanning the flock of 2600 waders, looking for anomalies. The great majority (1920) of the birds were Dunlin, with Kentish Plover (620) the other major component.
I saw a bird that was one of a kind. It was not associating with Kentish Plover or Dunlin. Unlike the plovers and Dunlin, which were resting and preening, the bird I was viewing was feeding. It was moving quickly and covering much ground.
The constant movement, like a wind-up toy, reminded me of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper I have viewed at Yangkou and Dongtai. The speed at which the bird ran fit the pattern, as did the average length of sprint. The bird would occasionally take a short flight. When it flew, the bird showed the white sides to its uppertail coverts.
The foregoing did not prove Spoon-billed Sandpiper–other species such as Red-necked Stint share some of those characters. What I needed was a close view. Unfortunately, the galaxy of shorebirds was spread out between me and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and the SBS was obviously shying away. Finally the bird moved to within 150 meters of the road. Even through the heat haze, the scope brought home the trademark spatulate bill.
It is only somewhat surprising that Spoon-billed Sandpiper should be at Nanhui in early November. First, Spoon-billed Sandpiper quit the stopover sites in Jiangsu around the end of October and early November. The Nanhui bird may have been one of them, and it may have stopped off in Shanghai for a quick refueling break as it heads south.
Second, as more and more of the Chinese coast is gobbled up by development, places such as the wetland at Nanhui, abandoned and gravely threatened as it is, take on greater and greater importance to migrating shorebirds. With so few places left for them, migrating waders pool in whatever hospitable area they can find. Small wonder, then, that in recent weeks the abandoned reserve has yielded EndangeredNordmann’s Greenshank and ultra-rarities such as Pomarine Jaeger and that the site is depended on by about 2 percent of the world’s EndangeredBlack-faced Spoonbill.
IUCN lists Spoon-billed Sandpiper as Critically Endangered. Only 500 to 800 of these birds are thought to exist. Excessive development along the Chinese coast is one of the main causes of its decline. Last month, in Will the Spoon Survive?, I discussed coastal development and the future of Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Earlier this week I published Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve! On Thursday at the defunct reserve, I saw yet again more than 50 Black-faced Spoonbill–by some measures, 2 percent of the world population of that endangered species. And I got to thinking again.
In many countries, once it was established that 2 percent of the world population of an endangered bird was relying on a site, then it would be game over, proclaim the site a nature reserve–no matter how valuable the land was. The rhetorical question would be, “To what better use could the land possibly be put?”
The local people would forgo the cash that would have been generated by the development of the land. They would say, “We can’t develop every last square meter, after all.” They would cradle Black-faced Spoonbill to their bosom.
At the site, further discoveries would be made. Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, two critically endangered species, also use the site. Great Knot, yet another endangered species, was there Thursday. Rarities like Pomarine Jaeger sometimes appear.
Those species would find refuge in Earth’s largest city. They would have a permanent base in mainland Pudong. They would be the pride of Nanhui.
The easily accessible site would become internationally known, like Mai Po in Hong Kong and Sungei Buloh in Singapore. Tourists would make trips to Shanghai–and on their visa application, under “purpose of visit,” write, “birdwatching.” Elementary schools would take field trips there. The kids would love it!
The current reality is this. When I first started going to Nanhui back in 2008, Black-faced Spoonbill almost always were hundreds of meters away. They would occasionally appear in the canal at the base of the sea wall. If you so much as stopped your car, they would stop feeding. If you opened your door, they would fly a long way away.
Now, in the defunct nature reserve, many of them are feeding right next to the access road. When you stop your car, they keep feeding. When you open your door, they fly 30 m back and start feeding again.
Have spoonbills lost their fear of man? Or, amid the shrinking of the local habitat, are they so desperate for a feed that they have lost their instinct to flee?
Editor’s note: Our featured image above, which shows a Spoon-billed Sandpiper and question mark, sets the theme for this post, in which we raise this question: In the face of manic coastal development in China, what will become of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, among the most highly endangered shorebirds in the world? The unique “spoon,” or spatulate bill–will future generations look on in wonder at it?
In Yangkou, the famous birding location in Rudong County, Jiangsu, my partners and I on Mon. 3 Oct. 2016 found a roost of 10,300 waders. We encountered this stunning spectacle on a reclaimed parcel of mudflat that will soon be transformed into a kite-flying ground for the tourists. Have you ever wondered why species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank are on the brink? This picture will help answer your question:
If other nearby areas are suitable, then why would so many shorebirds choose to roost literally in the shadow of the clanging backhoes and roaring dump trucks?
Simple. Because there are no better areas.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, and dozens of other shorebird species are being squeezed by coastal development, precisely of the sort shown in the photo above.
Surveying the strange scene, my partner Jan-Erik Nilsén said, “I feel the way I felt with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper yesterday–that I’m saying goodbye.”
13 SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER AT DONGTAI
Jan-Erik was referring to the events of Sun. 2 Oct. 2016 on the coast of Dongtai County, 35 km (22 miles) north of Yangkou. There we found 13 Spoon-billed Sandpiper foraging at the base of the sea wall at low tide. We watched as the sandpipers casually made their way to within 20 meters of our front-row seat on the wall.
Tempering our delight was this dark thought: Every last square inch of the area on which those endangered birds were foraging is slated for yet more reclamation. The disaster unfolding now at Yangkou may well strike Dongtai.
For now, Dongtai is still magical, with unbroken vistas from sea wall to horizon. For this reason, Dongtai has replaced Yangkou as the world’s best place to observe Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank.
But if Dongtai goes the way of Rudong County, then yet another step will have been taken in locking up the Chinese coast–and throwing away the key.
Our long look at Spoon-billed Sandpiper highlighted a three-day birding trip over Chinese National Day. My wife Elaine Du and I birded with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik, a Swede working in Beijing. The big roost at Yangkou plus a day and a half at Dongtai helped take our three-day coastal-birding total to 125 species. We had 29 Nordmann’s Greenshank and 35 Black-faced Spoonbill on Sunday at Dongtai, 6 Chinese Egret at the big roost at Yangkou and at Dongtai, and Little Curlew at the big roost.
Also notable were 230 Eurasian Oystercatcher at Dongtai; 19 Whimbrel at Dongtai as well as at our third site, Chongming Island in Shanghai; just 34 endangered Far Eastern Curlew at Dongtai; 573 Eurasian Curlew at Dongtai, including a big count of 570 on Sunday; plus 71 Great Knot, 144 Red Knot, an unusual view of Temminck’s Stint on the mudflats, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Finally, passerines: at Dongtai, Chinese Grey Shrike, Hair-crested Drongo, Red-rumped Swallow and Asian House Martin as well as a lone Yellow-bellied Tit migrating south along the sea wall. Also season’s first Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, White-throated Rock Thrush, Red-throated Pipit, and Little Bunting. We found Siberian Thrush and many other passerines at a wooded area around a sluice gate (32.722313, 120.942883). Still missing from our autumn 2016 Shanghai-area list: Bull-headed Shrike, Red-flanked Bluetail, Daurian Redstart, and all Turdus thrushes except Chinese Blackbird.
The big wader roost at Yangkou was made up mainly of Kentish Plover (6500) and Dunlin (2800). Inland we found Chinese Bamboo Partridge (a new Yangkou record for me) and Black-winged Kite.
At Yangkou, in our van we followed 3 Lesser Cuckoo along a line of trees paralleling the road. The sustained view plus photos clearly indicated Cuculus cuckoos of a thrush’s size, not a falcon’s size. Credit goes to Michael for quickly noting the small size of the cuckoo and encouraging me to take the leap beyond “Cuculus sp.” Jan-Erik supported Michael, and after viewing the dozens of photos we took, it was obvious they were right.
ZHONGSHAN IN THE RAIN
On Wed. afternoon 28 Sept. I saw in the drizzle an opportunity. In urban parks, light rain has little effect on the birds but a big effect on the humans. The parks are nearly empty. Elaine and I made the short walk from our apartment to Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park (31.221888, 121.420066). We had 15 species, 5 of them migrants: Yellow-browed Warbler 1, Arctic-type Warbler 2, Eastern Crowned Warbler 1, Grey-streaked Flycatcher 2, Dark-sided Flycatcher 2. To our Shanghai-area autumn 2016 list we added Black-throated Bushtit and Oriental Magpie-Robin.
When nearly empty, Zhongshan Park shows its natural side. The park is more than a century old, and some of the trees qualify as old-growth secondary. The many trees absorb the city’s sounds. The decibel level is low; one feels one has left the city.
— The “Temple Forest” (32.560253, 121.039793), the famous migrant trap at Haiyin Temple in Yangkou, has lost most of its value to birders. The Temple Forest was unparalleled as a migrant trap, routinely offering up a stunning array of species drawn to the cover of the leaves. A mini-zoo set up earlier this year in the unwooded areas has since expanded into the wood itself, with cages, mini-cottages, and fences throughout. As the trees are still standing, flycatchers and leaf warblers may continue to use the area.
— One bright note is the small wood next to the lighthouse at Haiyin Temple (32.561881, 121.040619). Fishermen who had been squatting there have moved out, and the area has been cleaned up. A sidewalk now runs past the wood. It is probably too small an area to be developed, and as it has the very best location right at the tip of the headland, it will continue to attract migrating birds.
List 1 of 1 for Wed. 28 Sept. 2016 (16 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Changning District, Shanghai, China. Drizzle. Low 22° C, high 26° C. Visibility 9 km. Wind SSE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 46 (good). Sunrise 05:47, sunset 17:41. WED 28 SEP 2016 12:20-13:30. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 10
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 4
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 5
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 8
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 50
List 1 of 1 for Sat. 1 Oct. 2016 (53 species)
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). Cloudy; high 28° C. PM2.5 AQI: 118 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:48, sunset 17:39. SAT 01 OCT 2016 11:35-17:25. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.
Garganey Spatula querquedula 7
Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Purple Heron A. purpurea 2
Great Egret A. alba 12
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 21
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 40
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 6
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 1 Accipiter sp. 2
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 10
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 54
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 6
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 7
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 6
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 4
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 2
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 15
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 40
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 4
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida 14
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 12
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 2
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 16
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 22
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 18
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 1
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 60
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 20
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 12
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 10
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 1
List 1 of 1 for Sun. 2 Oct. 2016 (89 species)
Birds noted around Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Yancheng Prefecture, Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Cloudy; high 28° C. Sunrise 05:49, sunset 17:38. SUN 02 OCT 2016 08:30-17:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.
Gadwall Mareca strepera 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 9
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Great Egret A. alba 5
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 5
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes 5
Little Egret E. garzetta 130
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 20 juvs.
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 35
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis 2
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus osculans 230
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 500
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 1
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 80
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 1
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 300
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 5
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 30
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata 570
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa melanuroides 1
Bar-tailed Godwit L. lapponica 10
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 60
Red Knot C. canutus 140
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 200
Sanderling C. alba 2
Dunlin C. alpina 3000
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 155
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 4
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 2
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 20
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer 29
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 5
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 4
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmea 13
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 25
Saunders’s Gull C. saundersi 30
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris 20
Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 15
Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus heuglini 1 ad.
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 208
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 30
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 4 Cuculus sp. 1
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Eurasian Hobby F. subbuteo 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 10
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 300
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 1 juv.
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus 1
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler P. proregulus 1
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 10
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 11
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 1
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 9
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Taiga Flycatcher F. albicilla 1
White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 42
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 3
White Wagtail M. alba 8
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 20
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 1
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 20
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens 1
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
List 1 of 2 for Mon. 3 Oct. 2016 (35 species)
Birds noted around Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Yancheng Prefecture, Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Sunny; high 28° C. Sunrise 05:50, sunset 17:37. MON 03 OCT 2016 08:00-10:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Great Egret A. alba 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 25
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 2
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 1
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 2
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 2
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 3
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata 3
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 11
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 50
Dunlin C. alpina 1
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 5
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 10
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 31
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 20
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 10
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 25
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 2
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 1
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 1
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 2
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 1