GUEST POST: Tianmushan in July

Editor’s note: Hangzhou Botanical Gardens and the Tianmu Mountains are must-see destinations for Shanghai birders, especially those of us new to birding in southeast China. Hangzhou Botanical combines ease of access (it can be visited in a day on the bullet train) with the chance to see southeast China birds whose ranges do not reach Shanghai. Visiting the Tianmu Mountains or Tianmushan is more of a project than visiting Hangzhou Botanical, but the rewards are greater. No place so close to Shanghai offers as much high-quality mountain forest as Tianmu.

In this guest post, Shanghai birder Larry Chen tells us about his recent trip to Hangzhou Botanical and Tianmu. As Larry makes clear, a trip to those locations, even at the height of summer, is worth the Shanghai birder’s time.

If Larry’s report whets your appetite and you want to know more, then take a look at these resources:

The shanghaibirding.com site page for the Tianmu Mountains
My trip to Tianmu in November 2015
My trip to Tianmu in May 2015 (scroll down to entries for 7-10 May)

— Craig Brelsford

Tianmushan in July
© 2017 by Larry Chen
for shanghaibirding.com

Komatsu Yasuhiko, Zeng Qiongyu, and I covered Tianmushan 6-8 July 2017. We hiked up to around 1500 meters above sea level and explored some beautiful top-quality mixed forest, including stands of the magnificent Japanese Cedar Cryptomeria japonica and Huangshan Pine Pinus hwangshanensis, as well as roadside mixed deciduous, conifer, and bamboo forest.

Some of the avian highlights from our three-day trip were the diminutive and bamboo-loving Short-tailed Parrotbill Neosuthora davidiana, Moustached Laughingthrush Garrulax cineraceus, and the regal Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis.

The weather at Tianmu, unlike hot and humid Shanghai, was humid but relatively cool, and plenty of shade was provided by the extensive foliage.

Tianmu highlights: Short-tailed Parrotbill (top) and Black Eagle, (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Tianmu highlights: Short-tailed Parrotbill (top) and Black Eagle. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Hiko and I visited Hangzhou Botanical on 5 July, managing to find, despite the heat, several species whose ranges do not quite reach Shanghai, among them Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides, Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae, and Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha.

I recommend Tianmu and Hangzhou Botanical to anyone seeking a few days’ trip out of Shanghai. Tianmushan has some beautiful habitat, comfortable but cheap accommodations, and a truly under-watched avian diversity.

We had 65 species at Hangzhou Botanical and Tianmu. Highlights:

Botanical

Asian Barred Owlet, Hangzhou Botanitcal Gardens, July 2017. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Asian Barred Owlet, Hangzhou Botanical Gardens, 5 July 2017. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Striated Heron Butorides striata
Swinhoe’s Minivet Pericrocotus cantonensis
Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides
Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus
Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae

West Tianmu Mountain

Rufous-capped Babbler, one of several species common at Tianmu and absent in Shanghai. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)
Rufous-capped Babbler, one of several species common at Tianmu and absent in Shanghai. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Short-tailed Parrotbill Neosuthora davidiana
Moustached Laughingthrush Garrulax cineraceus
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus goodsoni
Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis
Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps

You can view our complete lists on eBird:

West Tianmushan Nature Reserve, Zhejiang, CN (20170708)
West Tianmushan Nature Reserve, Zhejiang, CN (20170707)
West Tianmushan Nature Reserve, Zhejiang, CN (20170706)
Hangzhou Botanical Gardens, Zhejiang, CN (20170705)

Featured image: Habitats of Tianmushan. Clockwise from L: roaring stream, mixed deciduous-conifer forest, roadside bamboo, and vast tracts of mountain forest. (Larry Chen)

Amazing Spring Records for Shanghai

The past 10 days have seen a parade of migrants passing through Shanghai. Grey-crowned Warbler and Blue Whistling Thrush shocked birders at Nanhui. The birding site in southeast Pudong also yielded Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Pacific Golden Plover, Red Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler, Amur Paradise Flycatcher, singing Arctic Warbler, calling Two-barred Warbler, Radde’s Warbler, White-throated Rock Thrush, and still more Pechora Pipit. Tiger Shrike and Black Bulbul have been noted at Nanhui and on Lesser Yangshan, with the latter location yielding Peregrine Falcon and Rufous-tailed Robin singing from deep cover. Other interesting records were Red Turtle Dove, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Hair-crested Drongo, Ashy Drongo, day counts as high as 21 of Black Drongo, a trio of Siberians (Siberian Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin, Siberian Rubythroat), plus Chestnut Bunting and endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting. Zhongshan Park yielded our season’s first singing Black-naped Oriole. My friend Kai Pflug was one of a group of birders who found Fujian Niltava at Nanhui, a first for Shanghai.

A White-throated Rock Thrush yawns at Nanhui, 17 May 2016. A pair of males set up shop in Microforest 1 and stayed all day.
A White-throated Rock Thrush yawns at Nanhui, 17 May 2016. A pair of males set up shop in Microforest 1 and stayed all day.

At this time of year, considering the richness of the Shanghai coast and the lack of birder coverage over the years, I go out not hoping, but expecting to get interesting records. Recently, I have rarely been disappointed.

GREY-CROWNED WARBLER, RARE IN SHANGHAI

Though I missed Kai’s niltava, the German birder brought me good luck in another way. On a spectacular Tues. morning 17 May at Nanhui, exploring the lush microforests, he and I found Grey-crowned Warbler Seicercus tephrocephalus.

Grey-crowned Warbler, Nanhui, 17 May 2016.
Grey-crowned Warbler, Nanhui, 17 May 2016.

The bird was singing, an amazing incongruity, the bright, sharp south-Chinese Seicercus sound here in a tiny wood on the muddy Chinese coast. The golden warbler alighted on a branch for several seconds. I got photos and a sound recording. Grey-crowned Warbler is rarely seen this far east and is not covered in Mark Brazil’s Birds of East Asia. However the very good Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol. 11, which I can’t recommend enough to lovers of leaf warblers and golden spectacled warblers, has the info we need.

A monotypic species, S. tephrocephalus is said by HBW 11 to breed closest to us in Hubei. It is very simliar in plumage and song to Martens’s Warbler S. omeiensis but unlike Martens’s has eye-ring broken at rear. S. tephrocephalus is common to abundant in its normal range of south China and Southeast Asia, but it has rarely if ever been recorded in Shanghai. The lack of records is owing not only to its scarcity but also to its difficulty in identification, particularly for birders unfamiliar with HBW 11.

One of the pages dedicated to Seicercus warblers. Taken from a well-known PDF created by Shanghai Birding member Per Alström for a presentation he made to the Beijing Birdwatching Society in 2012. This report is now downloadable through shanghaibirding.com. See nearby text for link.
One of the pages dedicated to Seicercus warblers. Taken from a well-known PDF created by Shanghai Birding member Per Alström for a presentation he made to the Beijing Birdwatching Society in 2012. The PDF is now downloadable through shanghaibirding.com.

Much of the wealth of info on Seicercus warblers in HBW 11 is the fruit of the research of Swedish ornithologist Per Alström, who wrote nearly all the Seicercus entries. Guangdong-based French birder Jonathan Martinez has also researched S. tephrocephalus and helped me with the ID of the Grey-crowned Warbler. Both are members of the Shanghai Birding WeChat group and are readers of shanghaibirding.com. Thanks to both of you for your contributions.

Here are the sound-recordings I made of Grey-crowned Warbler. The recordings and photos are of the same individual.

Grey-crowned Warbler 1/2, Nanhui, Shanghai, 17 May 2016 (00:11; 1.2 MB)

Grey-crowned Warbler 2/2, Nanhui, Shanghai, 17 May 2016 (00:23; 1.7 MB)

After viewing the photos and listening to the recordings, Per wrote the following to the Shanghai Birding chat group:

“Hi Craig. … I agree with your id of Grey-crowned Warbler, mainly based on the song recording (songs and calls are by far the best ways to id Seicercus warblers). The photos look a bit off (e.g., eye-ring broken in front, which isn’t normally the case in any Seicercus, seemingly poorly marked lateral crown-stripes, no clear grey on crown [though that could be a photo effect], and dark-tipped lower mandible [only in Grey-cheeked W]). Simple id tips, paintings and a few photos can be found on my research web page. In a PDF on leaf warblers from a talk for Beijing Birdwatching Society, there are also sound recordings of … Seicercus warblers on the same page.” (That very useful PDF is now available for download through shanghaibirding.com [13 MB]: Phylloscopidae-Beijing-Birdwatching-Society-nov-2012 English)

To sum up:

My research indicates, and Per Alström concurs: Grey-crowned Warbler (Seicercus tephrocephalus)

Grey-crowned has eye-ring broken at rear; my photos show eye-ring broken at rear. The songs I recorded most closely match the song of S. tephrocephalus.

Next-closest possibility: Martens’s Warbler (S. omeiensis)

Very similar to Grey-crowned Warbler but doesn’t have eye-ring broken at rear.

Also: Alström’s Warbler (S. soror); my recording has trills; distinctive song of Alström’s lacks trills. Bianchi’s Warbler (S. valentini) does not trill. White-spectacled Warbler (S. affinis intermedius) has eye-ring broken above eye, not behind.

BLUE WHISTLING THRUSH, ANOTHER RARITY IN SHANGHAI

Blue Whistling Thrush, Nanhui, 15 May 2016.
Blue Whistling Thrush, Nanhui, 15 May 2016.

A coastal record of Blue Whistling Thrush is rare; the species had not been recorded in Shanghai since 1987. The places closest to Shanghai where I’ve seen the species are Tianmu Mountains in Zhejiang and in Nanjing Zhongshan Botanical Garden. When on Sun. 15 May we first saw the glossy blue-black bird, my partners Jan-Erik Nilsén and Elaine Du and I were flummoxed. We lingered around microforests 3-8 at Nanhui, waiting to get another look. We finally got a second look and realized it was whistler.

Birders tend to think of Blue Whistling Thrush as the ultimate resident, a fixture along fast-flowing mountain streams. The bird is however at least partly migratory, as our record and observations of other birders prove. In a text message to the Shanghai Birding WeChat group, Jonathan Martinez wrote: “BWT are migrants; I used to have them annually in northern Hunan at a site not suitable for breeding.”

CUCKOOS ARE CALLING IN SHANGHAI!

Comparison of Indian Cuckoo and Common Cuckoo. Bottom-left cuckoo is Common; note yellow iris and compare to dark iris of Indian in bottom-right panel. Top two panels also Indian. All photos taken 17 May 2016 at Nanhui.
Comparison of Indian Cuckoo and Common Cuckoo. Bottom-left cuckoo is Common; note yellow iris and compare to dark iris of Indian in bottom-right panel. Top two panels also Indian. All photos taken 17 May 2016 at Nanhui.

One of the many reasons I love spring is that during this time cuckoos call and are easier to identify. On Tues. 17 May at Nanhui Kai Pflug and I had two calling cuckoos: Common and Indian. I got photos of both. Can you see differences in the appearance of Common and Indian? One is eye color. See four-panel photo for comparison. The other is the thickness of the barring on the underparts. Indian also is smaller than Common, but the size difference is harder to see.

Here is one of the best-known bird calls in the world, that of Common Cuckoo, recorded by me at Nanhui on 17 May (00:31; 2 MB):

OTHER NOTES

— More Nanhui notes from Tues. 17 May: 0 ducks, 0 raptors, and Dishui Lake contained a grand total of 3 birds, all Great Crested Grebe. Also, on a weekday, even though weather superb, tourists were few; Kai Pflug and I enjoyed blessed peace and quiet. It was as quiet as a rainy Saturday or Sunday. We were lovin’ that!

— On Tues. 17 May Kai and I found bird netting at “Dowitcher Pond” (30.877779, 121.955465) in Nanhui. Area is fenced in and netting was tied to posts in deep water, so removing it will be a challenge.

— Here is a recording I made of Arctic Warbler at Nanhui.

Arctic Warbler, “half-hearted” song, Nanhui, 17 May 2016 (00:38; 2.3 MB)

— Here is the sound of Rufous-tailed Robin singing on Lesser Yangshan. The robins were singing unseen on the thickly vegetated hillside above the tunnel entrance at Xiǎoyánglíng Cove (30.642243, 122.066940).

Rufous-tailed Robin singing from thick cover, Lesser Yangshan Island, 14 May 2016 (00:08; 1.1 MB):

— Thanks to our birding partners Michael Grunwell, Jan-Erik Nilsén, and Kai Pflug.

List 1 of 1 for Wed. 11 May 2016 (10 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Sunny. Low 11° C, high 24° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind SSE 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 175 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:00, sunset 18:41. WED 11 MAY 2016 17:50-18:55. Craig Brelsford.

Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 6
Japanese Tit Parus minor 1
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 20
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 1
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia 1
Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 5

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 12 May 2016 (9 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Cloudy. Low 16° C, high 24° C. Visibility 3 km. Wind SSE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 165 (unhealthful). Sunrise 04:59, sunset 18:42. THU 12 MAY 2016 17:50-18:55. Craig Brelsford.

Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 15
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 8
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 4
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 22
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 2

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 13 May 2016 (12 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Cloudy. Low 17° C, high 20° C. Visibility 5 km. Wind ENE 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 165 (unhealthful). Sunrise 04:59, sunset 18:42. FRI 13 MAY 2016 05:40-06:35. Craig Brelsford & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 16
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 1 singing
Japanese Tit Parus minor 1
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 15
Turdus sp. 1 making tseep call high in trees
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 3

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 14 May 2016 (47 species). 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). Cloudy. Low 19° C, high 24° C. Wind SSE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 107 (unhealthful). Sunrise 04:58, sunset 18:43. SAT 14 MAY 2016 05:20-09:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 6
Great Egret Ardea alba 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Cuculus sp. 1
Northern Boobook Ninox japonica 1
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus 2
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos 4
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus 4
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 50
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 15 singing
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 2
Arctic Warbler P. borealis 1 calling
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 10
Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 12
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 1
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 6
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 2 singing
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia 1
Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki 1
Taiga Flycatcher F. albicilla 1
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 6
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 1
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 8
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 6
Tristram’s Bunting E. tristrami 4
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 1
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila 2

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 14 May 2016 (68 species)

Black-winged Cuckooshrike making use of microforest, Nanhui, 14 May 2016.
Black-winged Cuckooshrike making use of microforest, Nanhui, 14 May 2016.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159). List includes birds found along Shijitang Road between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Cloudy. Low 19° C, high 24° C. Wind SSE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 107 (unhealthful). Sunrise 04:58, sunset 18:43. SAT 14 MAY 2016 10:30-19:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 3
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 7
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 18
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 4
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 1
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 1
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 5
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 4
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 6
Common Redshank T. totanus 2
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 5
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 4
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 3
Grey-tailed Tattler T. brevipes 20
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 6
Red Knot Calidris canutus 1
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 10
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 3
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 20
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 2
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 4
Cuculus sp. 3
Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 6
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 4
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 1
Ashy Drongo D. leucophaeus 1
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 8
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Sand Martin Riparia riparia ca. 150
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 4
Arctic Warbler P. borealis 4
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis ca. 100
Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps 4
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 10
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 26
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 2
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 3
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 4 tschutschensis
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 3
White Wagtail M. alba 4 leucopsis
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 1
Pechora Pipit A. gustavi 1
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 2
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 3

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 15 May 2016 (57 species)

Red Knot, Nanhui, 15 May 2016.
Red Knot, Nanhui, 15 May 2016.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159). List includes birds found along Shijitang Road between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Sunny, turning cloudy. Low 11° C, high 24° C. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 76 (moderate). Sunrise 04:57, sunset 18:44. SUN 15 MAY 2016 08:00-14:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 2
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 1
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 2
Little Egret E. garzetta 22
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Accipiter sp. 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 4
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 13
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Red Knot Calidris canutus 2
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 5
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 1
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 3
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris 1
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus 2
Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 8
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 16
Ashy Drongo D. leucophaeus 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 1
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 10
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Sand Martin Riparia riparia ca. 150
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 150
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 2 singing
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 1
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 2
Two-barred Warbler P. plumbeitarsus 1
Arctic Warbler P. borealis 1 singing
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 1
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis ca. 150
Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps 10
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 10
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 10
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 8
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 9
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 18
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 2
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Blue Whistling Thrush Myophonus caeruleus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 3 leucopsis
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola 1
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1

List 1 of 1 for Tues. 17 May 2016 (74 species)

Black-browed Reed Warbler, Nanhui, 17 May 2016.
Black-browed Reed Warbler, Nanhui, 17 May 2016.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159). List includes birds found along Shijitang Road between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Cloudy. Low 13° C, high 24° C. Wind SSE 6 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 109 (unhealthful). Sunrise 04:56, sunset 18:45. TUE 17 MAY 2016 05:05-17:35. Craig Brelsford & Kai Pflug.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 3
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 20
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 16
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 6
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 4
Great Egret A. alba 1
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 8
Little Egret E. garzetta 29
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 4
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 6
Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus 4
Gallinago sp. 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 15
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 4
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2
Red Turtle Dove S. tranquebarica 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 8
Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus 1 calling
Common Cuckoo C. canorus 7 calling
Cuculus sp. 2
Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos 1
Swinhoe’s Minivet Pericrocotus cantonensis 4
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus 1
Brown Shrike L. cristatus 4
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 6
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 3
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 21
Hair-crested Drongo D. hottentottus 3
Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei 1
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 40
Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 1
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 2 singing
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 1
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 9
Arctic Warbler P. borealis 3 singing
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 3
Two-barred Warbler P. plumbeitarsus 1
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 3
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1
Grey-crowned Warbler Seicercus tephrocephalus 1 singing
Seicercus sp. 1
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis ca. 75
Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps 7
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 3
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 3
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 15
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 4
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 5
Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica 1
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 6
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 9
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 1
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 1
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 2
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 2
White Wagtail M. alba 2 leucopsis
Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi 4
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 4
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 5
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila 2

Mammals

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1

Reed Parrotbill, Nanhui, 17 May 2016. This species gets my vote for Bird of the City of Shanghai. It's charismatic and beautiful, and as a reed-bed specialist, Reed Parrotbill underlines the need to preserve what remains of the reeds in Shanghai and elsewhere along the China coast.
Reed Parrotbill, Nanhui, 17 May 2016. This species gets my vote for Bird of the City of Shanghai. It’s charismatic and beautiful, and as a reed-bed specialist, Reed Parrotbill underlines the need to preserve what remains of the reeds in Shanghai and elsewhere along the China coast.

Featured image: Here’s a handy rule for bird photographers: When you have light conditions as good as those we had Tues. morning 17 May 2016, then shoot anything, even a sparrow. It’ll look good. Luckily I had this more interesting Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. I was at Nanhui in Shanghai. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F6.3, 1/5000, ISO 6400.

The Crane and the Owl: 2015 Year in Review

For Elaine and me, 2015 was the Year of the Crane and the Owl. This post is the story of our amazing year.

2015 was a year that saw us note 640 species of bird in Asia and North America. It was a year that saw us find 450 species in China, 305 species in the Shanghai region, and 227 species within the boundaries of Earth’s largest city.

It was a year in which, on 21 Jan., Elaine and I got married in the house in Heilongjiang in which she was born.

Days after our wedding, at my parents’ house in Florida in the United States, a pair of Sandhill Crane walked through my parents’ back yard. Throughout our weeks in Florida, they came again and again; the cranes are part of a non-migratory flock that is both fully wild and completely at home in suburban central Florida. No one disturbs them.

Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis, DeBary, Florida, 31 Jan. 2015. These cranes are fully wild yet completely accustomed to life in suburbia. No one disturbs them.
Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis, DeBary, Florida, 31 Jan. 2015. These cranes are fully wild yet completely accustomed to life in suburbia. No one disturbs them.

Elaine was astonished. To her, the cranes came to symbolize all that is good about birding in America.

In August, Elaine and I returned to her home in Heilongjiang. A pair of Eurasian Eagle-Owl came to her village night after night. They hooted from the rooftops of the farm buildings that Elaine’s father built. We saw the owls by day, at the nearby quarry where they had nested.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo at the quarry near Elaine's house in Dawucun, Heilongjiang. Night after night, the hoot of these owls was heard in Elaine's village.
Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo at the quarry near Elaine’s house in Dawucun, Heilongjiang. Night after night, the hoot of these owls was heard in Elaine’s village.

I was astonished. To me, the eagle-owls came to symbolize all that is good about birding in Asia.

In the year in which we were married, Elaine and I visited each other’s hometowns for the first time. At my home, cranes; at Elaine’s, eagle-owls. Forevermore, 2015 will be remembered for the powerful birds that visited our homes. In the Brelsford house, 2015 will go down as the Year of the Crane and the Owl.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, one of many species of bird using my parents' back yard in suburban central Florida, USA.
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, one of many species of bird using my parents’ back yard in suburban central Florida, USA.

WHERE DID WE GO IN 2015?

In China, Elaine and I stayed in the east, taking two major trips to Heilongjiang and neighboring Hulunbeier (Inner Mongolia), two trips to Emeifeng in Fujian, and an eventful five-day trip to Guangxi. We also spent a week in Beijing and Hebei. We birded with Jan-Erik Nilsén, Brian Ivon Jones, and Michael Grunwell, fine birders all.

Michael Grunwell at Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015. A birder as enthusiastic as he is knowledgeable, Michael was our major birding partner in 2015. We went thousands of kilometers together, traveling by air, train, car, and foot to birding locations in five provinces. A teacher by profession, Michael freely distributes his bird knowledge, built up over four decades. Michael introduced us to Emeifeng and proposed the Nonggang Babbler trip. We, in turn, had the pleasure of showing Michael various sites in the Shanghai region after Michael and his family moved to Shanghai from Nanchang in August 2015.
Michael Grunwell at Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015. A birder as enthusiastic as he is knowledgeable, Michael was our major birding partner in 2015. We went thousands of kilometers together, traveling by air, train, car, and foot to birding locations in five provinces. A teacher by profession, Michael freely distributes his bird knowledge, built up over four decades. Michael introduced us to Emeifeng and proposed the Nonggang Babbler trip. We, in turn, had the pleasure of showing Michael various sites in the Shanghai region after Michael and his family moved to Shanghai from Nanchang in August 2015.

In America, I am fortunate to be based in central Florida, one of the finest birding areas in one of the best states in the USA for birding. In Florida, the birding is so good, I take my binoculars even on a quick trip to the grocery store. My parents’ back yard alone attracted dozens of species, and we added more at local parks as well as major reserves such as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Elaine and I also took a 15-day birding honeymoon to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where we birded with noted American birder Chris Feeney.

Sunset, 10 March 2015, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Elaine and I hear a loud, sickening crunch. I wade into the pond and get these powerful images of an American Alligator devouring a Blue Crab.
Sunset, 10 March 2015, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Elaine and I hear a loud, sickening crunch. I wade into the pond and get these powerful images of an American Alligator devouring a Blue Crab.

2015 IN SHANGHAI

The bulk of our year was spent around Shanghai. Our 227 “city” species were noted while compiling two major reports, one covering the spring migration and the other covering the autumn and winter. Trips further afield to places in Jiangsu and Zhejiang brought our Shanghai regional list to 305 species. Accompanying us on many of those trips was Michael Grunwell as well as German birder Kai Pflug and the husband-and-wife team of Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp.

Brown-eared Bulbul, Lesser Yangshan Island, 2 Jan. 2015. A few months after this photo was taken, Elaine and I noted this species in Yangkou, and in December 2015 we once again were noting the species on Lesser Yangshan. In Seoul, which I had the pleasure of visiting in May 2015, Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis is the 'default' bulbul, common and noisy, like Light-vented Bulbul in many Chinese cities. In Shanghai, Brown-eared Bulbul is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor.
Brown-eared Bulbul, Lesser Yangshan Island, 2 Jan. 2015. A few months after this photo was taken, Elaine and I noted this species in Yangkou, and in December 2015 we once again were noting the species on Lesser Yangshan. In Seoul, which I had the pleasure of visiting in May 2015, Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis is the ‘default’ bulbul, common and noisy, like Light-vented Bulbul in many Chinese cities. In Shanghai, Brown-eared Bulbul is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor.

Our springtime expedition in the Shanghai region saw us note 243 species. The autumn-winter report contained 259 species by 31 Dec. Here is what we discovered in 2015 around Shanghai:

— Amid the unremitting transformation of the Jiangsu and Shanghai coast, we found several shorebird species on the brink, among them the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, and the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Other threatened waders noted by us were Grey-tailed Tattler, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Far Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot. Other at-risk coastal species were Oriental Stork, Chinese Egret, Saunders’s Gull, and Reed Parrotbill, as well as the elegant passage migrant Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Long-billed Dowitcher, Rudong County (S of Yangkou), Jiangsu, 24 April 2015.
Long-billed Dowitcher, Rudong County (S of Yangkou), Jiangsu, 24 April 2015.

— The most notable extralimitals were Long-billed Dowitcher south of Yangkou, Black Redstart on Hengsha Island, and Dalmatian Pelican at Dongtai and Nanhui. Other interesting finds were Himalayan Swiftlet and Brown-eared Bulbul at Yangkou, Chestnut-cheeked Starling on Lesser Yangshan Island, and at Nanhui Common Goldeneye, Horned Grebe, Black Bittern, White-bellied Green Pigeon, Japanese Scops Owl, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, Black-collared Starling, and Common Rosefinch

Himalayan Swiftlet, Yangkou, 13 Sept. 2015.
Himalayan Swiftlet, Yangkou, 13 Sept. 2015.

— We noted 14 Emberiza species, among them three threatened species (Yellow-breasted Bunting, Yellow Bunting, and Japanese Reed Bunting), the beautiful Crested Bunting, East Asian favorites Meadow Bunting, Tristram’s Bunting, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Chestnut Bunting, Yellow-browed Bunting, and Yellow-throated Bunting, and Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting, Black-faced Bunting, and Pallas’s Reed Bunting

Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanmincun (near Yangkou), Rudong County, Jiangsu, 12 April 2015. I reported this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). A week later, AWSG told me that the godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years prior!) in Victoria, Australia.
Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanmincun (near Yangkou), Rudong County, Jiangsu, 12 April 2015. I reported this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). A week later, AWSG told me that the godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years prior!) in Victoria, Australia.

— We noted dozens of East Asian migrants, breeders, and residents, among them Grey-headed Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Oriental Pratincole, Black-tailed Gull, Lesser Cuckoo, Northern Boobook, Oriental Dollarbird, Speckled Piculet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Bull-headed Shrike, Chinese Grey Shrike, Yellow-bellied Tit, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler, Grey-backed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, Brown-headed Thrush, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Rufous-tailed Robin, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, and Red-throated Pipit

Thick-billed Warbler, Yangkou, 16 May 2015.
Thick-billed Warbler, Yangkou, 16 May 2015.

— During two trips to the Tianmu Mountains 250 km SW of Shanghai in Zhejiang, we watched a Crested Bunting sing, found a pair of Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, were encouraged by the many Buffy Laughingthrush, saw Crested Serpent Eagle and Black Eagle, came face-to-face with Koklass Pheasant, and noted more Russet Sparrow than Eurasian Tree Sparrow. We appreciated the strong Indo-Malayan character of the avifauna, as evidenced by classic southern Chinese species such as Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Indochinese Yuhina, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Little Forktail, and White-crowned Forktail

— At Yangkou, we found a reliable site for the elusive Brown-cheeked Rail

Collared Owlet, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.
Collared Owlet, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.

THE TRIPS TO EMEIFENG

In spring 2015, Elaine and I made two trips to Emeifeng in the mountains of northwest Fujian. We noted 103 species. Highlights:

— Finding the five key game birds: Elliot’s Pheasant, Cabot’s Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, as well as the beautiful Chinese Bamboo Partridge

Cabot's Tragopan, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.
Cabot’s Tragopan, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.

— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng

— Closely studying three Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni fokiensis, as well as having close encounters with White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius

Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.
Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.

— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed Forktail E. schistaceus, White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted Forktail E. maculatus bacatus

— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush

— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream and seeing Pygmy Wren-Babbler along that same stream

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.
Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.

— Noting other key south-China species, among them Black Bittern, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Black Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Besra, Collared Owlet, Asian Barred Owlet, Great Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Bay Woodpecker, Grey-chinned Minivet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Sultan Tit, Rufous-faced Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Brown Bush Warbler, Small Niltava, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Black-collared Starling, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Fork-tailed Sunbird, and Orange-bellied Leafbird

MAJOR DISCOVERIES IN HULUNBEIER & HEILONGJIANG

Our explorations in Heilongjiang and Hulunbeier were inspired by the words of John MacKinnon:

Instead of going to the familiar places in China to clock up new additions to life lists, why not get to some remote areas where you have a good chance of finding something new?

– John MacKinnon, A Field Guide to the Birds of China, p. 16

In Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, Elaine and I noted 228 species. We visited the region twice: once in January, a short trip with Brian Ivon Jones; and a longer trip in July with Jan-Erik Nilsén and later Brian. There were also two brief stops in Hohhot in south-central Inner Mongolia.

Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus, the first of many good birds I discovered near Elaine's home village. 20 Jan. 2015.
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus, the first of many good birds I discovered near Elaine’s home village. 20 Jan. 2015.

The January trip to Hulunbeier, the U.K.-sized prefecture in northeast Inner Mongolia, was our introduction to the region. Elaine, Brian, and I experienced cold such as I had never felt before. The lowest temperature we had was -36°C (-33°F). Among our highlights were Northern Hawk-Owl, White-backed Woodpecker, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Great Tit, and Arctic Redpoll.

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Wuerqihan, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 15 Jan. 2015.
Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Wuerqihan, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 15 Jan. 2015.

Elaine and I then traveled to Dawucun, her home village in southeastern Heilongjiang. There, on 21 January 2015, Elaine and I were married. (We worked in some birding that day, noting Common Kestrel behind her house.) I was pleasantly surprised by the good birding around Dawucun. Never walking more than 2 km from Elaine’s house, we noted Rough-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Siberian Accentor, and Eurasian Bullfinch.

Blyth's Pipit Anthus godlewskii near Manzhouli, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 20 July 2015.
Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii near Manzhouli, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 20 July 2015.

In the summer, Elaine and I returned to the region with Jan-Erik. The three of us spent 11-24 July exploring Hulunbeier. We drove our rented Honda CR-V 2533 km, covering the main habitats of Hulunbeier, among them the northern-temperate and taiga forests of the Greater Khingan Range and the arid grasslands around Hulun Lake.

Baikal Bush Warbler, 12 July 2015. Near Genhe, we were driving 60 km/h and in the middle of a conversation. Suddenly Jan-Erik said, 'I just heard Siberian Bush Warbler!' (IOC: Baikal Bush Warbler). I hit the brakes and parked. Within a few seconds, we had our bird. Jan-Erik has sharp ears!
Baikal Bush Warbler, 12 July 2015. Near Genhe, we were driving 60 km/h and in the middle of a conversation. Suddenly Jan-Erik said, ‘I just heard Siberian Bush Warbler!’ (IOC: Baikal Bush Warbler). I hit the brakes and parked. Within a few seconds, we had our bird. Jan-Erik has sharp ears!

Among the 170 species we noted were breeding Scaly-sided Merganser at Yikesama Forest and Swan Goose at the excellent Modamuji wetland. Other highlights: Great Grey Owl and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler at Wuerqihan; Demoiselle Crane, Oriental Plover, and Isabellline Shrike around Hulun Lake; breeding Arctic Warbler near Genhe and at Yikesama; Baikal Bush Warbler near Genhe and at Hanma Reserve; House Sparrow and Blyth’s Pipit at various locations; Hazel Grouse at various locations and Black Grouse at Hanma; nesting Common House Martin in Galaya; flocks of hundreds of Pacific Swift and Common Swift in the towns; banded Red-necked Stint near Modamuji; 5000 Sand Martin and Bearded Reedling at Modamuji; and Pallas’s Reed Bunting ssp. lydiae and Common Starling at Wulannuo’er.

Common Swift, Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia, 21 July 2015.
Common Swift, Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia, 21 July 2015.

Next came two weeks (26 July-8 Aug.) in eastern Heilongjiang with Brian Ivon Jones. The trip began and ended in Jiamusi and took us on a loop through areas along the border with Russia, principally along the Ussuri and Amur rivers. This part of the trip was somewhat of a disappointment, mainly because seas of maize have eaten up hundreds of square kilometers of habitat. Still, we managed to find Oriental Stork in unexpected places such as Tongjiang; at Qixing River we found breeding Red-necked Grebe and noted Red-crowned Crane, White-naped Crane, and Reed Parrotbill (ssp. polivanovi, “Northern Parrotbill”); and at Qindeli Farms we saw Black Woodpecker and Mountain Hare.

Eurasian Woodcock, Honghe Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang, 30 July 2015. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/4, 1/80, ISO 10000.
Eurasian Woodcock, Honghe Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang, 30 July 2015. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/4, 1/80, ISO 10000.

Elaine and I spent 9 Aug. to 8 Sept. at Dawucun. The month at Elaine’s parents’ house was a high point in my birding career and one of the most satisfying moments in my many years in China. The birding was excellent, even in late summer, and even better was combining birding with family. Elaine and I would bird in the morning and afternoon and in the evening have dinner with her parents, sisters, and nieces.

Elaine Du (L) birding with her nieces Lisa Li (C) and Jennifer Jiang, Dawucun, Heilongjiang, 13 Aug. 2015.
Elaine Du (L) birding with her nieces Lisa Li (C) and Jennifer Jiang, Dawucun, Heilongjiang, 13 Aug. 2015.

Elaine and I rediscovered the quiet hills 1.5 km south of her village, and we made a major discovery: Xidaquan National Forest, 9400 hectares of old-growth secondary woodland just 21 km from Dawucun. Xidaquan had never been properly birded before, and the park managers welcomed our research, giving us free admission in return for a list of the species we noted.

Lush vegetation at forest edge, with thickly forested low mountains typical of region in background. Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 2 Sept. 2015.
Lush vegetation at forest edge, with thickly forested low mountains typical of region in background. Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 2 Sept. 2015.

We made 12 visits to Xidaquan and submitted to the managers a list of 91 species noted around the park and Dawucun. Among the highlights were discovering the Eurasian Eagle-Owl while birding with Elaine’s young nieces at the quarry near Dawucun. We found Eurasian Eagle-Owl at two other locations, one of them in Xidaquan, where we also noted Ural Owl and Long-eared Owl. Eastern Crowned Warbler were singing loudly and defending territory deep into August, and Radde’s Warbler were behaving likewise into September.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea amurensis, Xidaquan, 17 Aug. 2015.
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea amurensis, Xidaquan, 17 Aug. 2015.

We regularly noted classic northeast China taxa such as Coal Tit ssp. ater, Eurasian Nuthatch ssp. amurensis, Eurasian Jay ssp. brandtii, Willow Tit ssp. baicalensis, and Marsh Tit ssp. brevirostris. At Xidaquan we saw Mandarin Duck, Asian Stubtail, Thick-billed Warbler, Eurasian Treecreeper, Siberian Thrush, Pale Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, and Long-tailed Rosefinch; in the hills behind Dawucun we had breeding White-throated Rock Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher as well as Northern Goshawk, Chinese Grey Shrike, Grey-backed Thrush, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, and Eurasian Red Squirrel; and in Elaine’s parents’ back garden we had Daurian Starling as well as the regular nighttime visits by the eagle-owls.

Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan, 25 Aug. 2015.
Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan, 25 Aug. 2015.

The hills behind Elaine’s house became like a second home to us. A message I sent on 4 Sept. to the Shanghai Birding WeChat group sums up my mood:

“WISH-YOU-WERE-HERE MOMENT: If crisp fall weather could be bottled up and sold, then today would be the day to harvest it. Brilliant blue sky, cool qiufeng (秋风, ‘autumn breeze’), temp. about 17°C. Speaking of harvests, Elaine and her father are nearby picking Honey Mushroom Armillaria mellea. Elaine just radioed me; she and baba found a mother lode and expect to collect about 8 kg of the tasty fungus. I just now was writing almost literally in the shadow of a White-backed Woodpecker, the largest pied woodpecker and a very inquisitive creature, curious even about the weak playback coming from my iPhone speaker. Before settling down, I startled a Hazel Grouse and heard the laughter of Black Woodpecker. A Pale Thrush gave itself away with its tzzt contact call, then viewed me from a high branch before darting off. … Thank you for waiting me out while I drink my fill of these northern forests. It’s been one of my sweetest China experiences, doing great birding by day and being welcomed by Elaine’s warmhearted family at night. Birding and family! Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, a species commonly noted by Elaine and me at Xidaquan. They were singing and defending territory into September. This photo is from 24 Aug. 2015.
Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, a species commonly noted by Elaine and me at Xidaquan. They were singing and defending territory into September. This photo is from 24 Aug. 2015.

BEIJING & HEBEI IN OCTOBER

Jan-Erik was an excellent tour guide at Nanpu, a coastal site in Hebei and the major wintering site for Relict Gull. Our Swedish friend also introduced us to Miyun, where we noted Greater Spotted Eagle and Long-billed Plover.

We found this wintering Japanese Thrush in Longheng on 20 Dec. 2015.
We found this wintering Japanese Thrush in Longheng on 20 Dec. 2015.

LONGHENG, GUANGXI, HOME OF NONGGANG BABBLER

From 16-21 Dec., Michael, Elaine, and I were in Longheng, Guangxi. We noted 76 species, chief among them Nonggang Babbler. We had White-winged Magpie, savored close nighttime views of Collared Scops Owl, enjoyed views of the elusive Lesser Shortwing, and delighted in southern China favorites Sultan Tit, Buff-breasted Babbler, Streaked Wren-Babbler, and Black-breasted Thrush. Farther afield, driving in our rented Mitsubishi Pajero, we found Large Woodshrike in the heavily wooded valley near Longheng, White-browed Piculet and Chestnut-capped Babbler in the cane fields near Longheng, Slaty-bellied Tesia in a thicket along a farm road, Siberian Rubythroat along a stream near Nonggang village, and Red-headed Trogon, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-throated Babbler, and Pale-footed Bush Warbler near Nonggang National Nature Reserve. Pin-striped Tit-Babbler and Rufescent Prinia were seen at various points, and Crested Bunting were locally abundant on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng.

Bird Species Noted in 2015 by Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du

In 2015, the husband-and-wife team of Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du noted 305 species in the Shanghai region, 450 species in China, and 640 species worldwide.

Shanghai region: 305 (227 in Shanghai Shi)
China: 450
Asia: 451 (includes China list plus Varied Tit, noted by Craig in Seoul)
World: 640 (includes Asia list plus all American species not on Asia list)

Featured image: In 2015, my wife Elaine Du discovered Sandhill Crane (L) at my home in Florida; her new husband, Craig, discovered Eurasian Eagle-Owl (R) at Elaine’s home in Heilongjiang. 2015 was our Year of the Crane and the Owl.

Koklass Pheasant Highlight Tianmu Trip

On Sunday 22 Nov., Elaine and I completed a rainy three-day trip to the Tianmu Mountains, 270 km SW of People’s Square. The highlight was 4 Koklass Pheasant on Saturday. We found the pheasants on a long walk down the mountain road at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. Other finds were of the common southern China variety but were no less delightful: Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Collared Owlet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-faced Warbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, White-crowned Forktail, and Little Forktail. Among the wintering/passage birds were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Mugimaki Flycatcher.

The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015.
The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015. (Elaine Du)

After so many weeks watching migrating birds along the coast, Elaine and I noted the more settled character of the bird life in the big, southern-temperate, montane forest at Tianmu. Seeing the many south China residents, several of whose ranges extend not much farther north than Tianmu, was like meeting old friends.

On Saturday we took the bus to the parking lot at Lóngfèngjiān, the famous Japanese Cedar forest. We declined to pay 140 yuan per person to enter the forest. Instead, we walked the road back toward our hotel. The first Koklass took off from cover and flew down slope. A few bends and twists of the road below, we again heard the beating of pheasants’ wings. Finally, at a spectacular clearing about 3 km below Lóngfèngjiān, I got a view of a female Koklass startled into flight. I rushed to the edge of the slope, just in time to see her partner, a stunning green-headed male. I now was convinced that in this high-quality habitat, large and well-protected, pheasants must be numerous. Examining the rim of the slope, I got further confirmation of that idea by the rows of pheasant scat that I found. Koklass Pheasants must stand there often, using the disused parking beam as a perch.

Koklass Pheasant droppings here suggest a substantial presence of these unusual gamebirds.
Koklass Pheasant droppings here suggest a substantial presence of these unusual gamebirds. (Craig Brelsford)

The view the pheasants take in there is superb, especially on a cloudy day, with clouds partly filling the valley below. During a rare moment when the fog lifted, we took in the impressive view. The exercise, fresh air, and good birds put us in a fine mood. I was without my camera, not willing to carry it through the mist, and I reveled in my mobility. When I heard a Koklass calling from bamboo, I jumped in to take a look. I couldn’t find the pheasant, but no matter: The sound of a singing Collared Owlet quickly refocused my attention.

The forest around Lóngfèngjiān is mixed broadleaf-conifer with short, wispy bamboo a component of the moderately thick undergrowth. The broadleaf trees are bare now, and the scene is reminiscent of colder, more northern climes. Farther down, more trees retain their leaves, the undergrowth is in places impenetrable, and bamboo grows in thick stands.

Elaine and I have now had a pair of Tianmu trips–one this past May and now this one six months later. The mirror-image trips have given us a view of Tianmu at opposite ends of the year. We now better understand the southern Chinese flora and avifauna right at our doorstep, and we appreciate more than ever the transitional, north-south character of the Shanghai region.

Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing, West Tianmu, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015. Elev. 1020 m. Note the bare vegetation, the presence of bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet.
Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing, West Tianmu, 21 Nov. 2015. Elev. 1020 m. Note the bare vegetation, the presence of bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet. (Craig Brelsford)

List 1 of 3: Birds noted around West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve (Xī Tiānmùshān Zìrán Bǎohùqū [西天目山自然保护区]), Zhejiang, China. List includes observations from hotel at Hǎisēn Nóngzhuāng (海森农庄, 30.337622, 119.455874, elev. 425 m) to a point on the road called Jiǔzhū Xiàn (九朱线, 30.308047, 119.483266, elev. 200 m). Rainy and foggy; high 12°C. Visibility 0 km. Wind NNE 6 km/h. Sunrise 06:29, sunset 17:01. FRI 20 NOV 2015 13:00-15:35.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 7
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 15
Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis 10
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 2
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 30
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis 4
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 70
Indochinese Yuhina Yuhina torqueola 2
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 10
White-crowned Forktail Enicurus leschenaulti 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5

List 2 of 3: Birds noted around West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve (Xī Tiānmùshān Zìrán Bǎohùqū [西天目山自然保护区]), Zhejiang, China. List includes observations made on walk & drive between hotel at Hǎisēn Nóngzhuāng (海森农庄, 30.337622, 119.455874, elev. 425 m) to Lóngfèngjiān (龙凤尖, 30.344148, 119.440201, elev. 1120 m). The distance by road between the two points is 12.7 km. Lóngfèngjiān serves as the parking area for the Japanese Cedar forest below Xiānrén Dǐng (仙人顶; 1506 m), the highest point on West Tianmu Mountain. Cloudy with periods of rain; high 15°C. Visibility 0-5 km. Wind NNE 11 km/h. Sunrise 06:29, sunset 16:54. SAT 21 NOV 2015 09:40-17:00.

Chinese Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola thoracicus 4
Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha 4
prob. gamebird sp. 2
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius sinensis 5
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha 5
Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 6
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 10
Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis 6
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 2
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 30
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis 6
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps 4
Huet’s Fulvetta Alcippe hueti 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 60
Grey-headed Parrotbill Psittiparus gularis 50
Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus 4
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 5
Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri 1
White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti 3
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Plumbeous Water Redstart P. fuliginosus 2
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 2
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 2
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 3
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 5

Densely vegetated area near entrance to West Tianmu Nature Reserve. Elev. here 330 m. This was our main birding site on Day 3.
Densely vegetated area near entrance to West Tianmu Nature Reserve. Elev. here 330 m. This was our main birding site on Day 3. (Craig Brelsford)

List 3 of 3: Birds noted around West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve (Xī Tiānmùshān Zìrán Bǎohùqū [西天目山自然保护区]), Zhejiang, China. List includes observations from the broad area of mixed habitats around the entrance gate (30.314472, 119.442713, elev. 330 m). Rainy and foggy; high 16°C. Visibility 0 km. Wind NNE 6 km/h. Sunrise 06:31, sunset 17:00. SUN 22 NOV 2015 10:30-12:10.

Chinese Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola thoracicus 4
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 1
Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha 1
Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae 9
Japanese Tit Parus minor 6
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 3
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 30
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 2
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 2
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
White-crowned Forktail Enicurus leschenaulti 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata 20
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 5
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 18
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 2
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 2
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 1
Tristram’s Bunting E. tristrami 3
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 8

Featured photo: Female Koklass Pheasant, Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, Sichuan, 20 May 2013. Pucrasia macrolopha ranges from the Himalaya to E and N China. (Craig Brelsford)