Where the World’s Greatest Flyway Meets the World’s Greatest City

Finally, it is ready: Elaine’s and my report on the doings of this past spring in Shanghai. We’re calling it “Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2016.”

The report is the latest in a growing list of resources available on shanghaibirding.com. Everything we do here is geared toward showing you what birding is like at the point on the Earth where the world’s greatest migratory flyway meets the world’s greatest city.

The report covers 7 March to 24 May 2016. Elaine and I birded 38 of those 79 days and noted 240 species. We partnered with members of our network of subscribers and contributors to shanghaibirding.com. Special thanks to Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén as well as to Xueping Popp, Stephan Popp, Kai Pflug, and Ian Davies.

Why should you read “Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2016”? Read it to plan your own explorations and to get an idea of what birds you can expect to see in this city in March, April, and May. You’ll find no more complete a report on that subject, anywhere.

From the intro:

“We deepened our knowledge of the birds of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway and increased our understanding of the pressures these birds face in the Shanghai region. One of the most densely populated areas in the world and an economic dynamo, the Shanghai tri-province area encompasses Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, is the size of the U.S. state of Kansas, and has a population of 160 million–half that of the United States.”

From the highlights:

“ — We continued to monitor species under threat by the uncontrolled coastal development afflicting the region, among them the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Great Knot, and Yellow-breasted Bunting; near-threatened Eurasian Oystercatcher, Asian Dowitcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Marsh Grassbird, and Reed Parrotbill; and vulnerable Chinese Egret, Saunders’s Gull, and Yellow Bunting. We led a group one of whose members found the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

“ — We recorded the first Blue Whistling Thrush in Shanghai since 1987. Other interesting finds were Horned Grebe on Chongming, Oriental Plover on Hengsha Island, Ruddy Kingfisher at Yangkou, Red-throated Thrush at Century Park, singing Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Zhongshan Park, Grey-crowned Warbler, Two-barred Warbler, Pechora Pipit, and Citrine Wagtail at Nanhui, White-shouldered Starling on Lesser Yangshan, Rufous-faced Warbler at Nanhui and on Lesser Yangshan, and Bluethroat at Nanhui and on Chongming.”

Featured image: Screenshot of our newly published report, “Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2016,” now available in the Reports section of shanghaibirding.com.

Mayday! Mayday! Singing Pechora Pipit in Shanghai!

Elaine and I noted 112 species over May Day weekend 2016. We did island birding on Lesser Yangshan, coastal birding at Nanhui, and inner-city birding at Zhongshan Park. Highlights were 26 Pechora Pipit, 6 of them singing, plus (Japanese) Yellow Bunting and 2 endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting at Nanhui. Nanhui also gave us 3 Chinese Egret, a rare view of Large Hawk-Cuckoo, endangered Far Eastern Curlew and 4 near-threatened Curlew Sandpiper, and high-value passage migrants such as Chinese Sparrowhawk, Asian Stubtail, Brown-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Chestnut Bunting. Lesser Yangshan yielded 2 Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Greater Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, 18 near-threatened Grey-tailed Tattler, 2 Broad-billed Sandpiper, and Taiga Flycatcher. Seasonal firsts were numerous and included Little Tern, Dusky Warbler, and Black-browed Reed Warbler at Nanhui and Grey-streaked Flycatcher on Lesser Yangshan. On Sat. 30 April and Sun. 1 May we birded with veteran English birder Michael Grunwell.

Pechora Pipit sparring, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This is just one instance of aggressive behavior being displayed by Pechoras. We noted 6 Pechoras singing, and we watched a Pechora drive an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting from a perch.
Pechora Pipit sparring, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This is just one instance of aggressive behavior being displayed by Pechoras. We noted 6 Pechoras singing, and we watched a Pechora drive an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting from a perch. (Craig Brelsford)

On Saturday near Microforest 2 at Nanhui, Michael enjoyed his first views of Pechora Pipit in 26 years while Elaine and I enjoyed our second view in a week of this scarce passage migrant. Those views were just a prelude to the excitement of Sunday. Again at Nanhui, driving along the sea-wall road, we began finding Pechoras. Some of them were singing; two of them were sparring. We decided to make a survey of this scarce passage migrant. Driving slowly from the Holiday Inn north, we scanned the thickly vegetated inner base of the sea wall. Thousands of trees have been planted there recently, giving the Pechoras perches and making them easier to see. We counted 26. Here is the song I recorded of Pechora Pipit (00:27; 1.9 MB):

Another view of Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the fine but distinct streaks on the crown and the pinkish bill.
Another view of Pechora Pipit. Note the fine but distinct streaks on the crown and the pinkish bill. (Craig Brelsford)

Saturday began with a 4 a.m. pickup of Michael and 90-minute drive to Lesser Yangshan. We went first to Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873). Accidental Marsh is several hectares of newly formed wetland created by the construction of a causeway linking Lesser Yangshan and Dazhitou Island. Besides the waders noted above, we found singing Oriental Reed Warbler, and we rejoiced because for a change we had found a place where the reed-bed habitat of that species is expanding, rather than contracting, as is so often the case on the beleaguered Chinese coast. Another interesting record there was Black-collared Starling, uncommon in the Shanghai region. Moving to Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), we found Black Drongo and the Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover. On the half-destroyed Garbage Dump Coastal Plain next to the Gully, we met a lone Pacific Golden Plover.

Michael Grunwell (L) and Craig Brelsford examining shorebirds on Accidental Mudflat, Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, China, 30 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael Grunwell (L) and Craig Brelsford examining shorebirds on Accidental Mudflat, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016. (Elaine Du)

We drove back to the mainland and remained at Nanhui the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday. We noticed once again that the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489) and nearby areas are turning into a circus, especially on holiday weekends. Upwards of 300 cars are parked there at midday, and though the Parking Lot is an effective migrant trap, on weekends in good weather birding the Lot is difficult after 9 a.m.

In light of the new popularity of the Lot as well as the continued flattening of the local reed beds, we are looking for new areas to bird. We found a place we are calling South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106). South Lock is the area around the place where the S2 expressway meets the mainland. A sluice gate is nearby, hence the name. On Saturday, trees at South Lock were holding Eastern Crowned Warbler, a species beloved by Michael, and the adjacent ponds and marshes held waders and buntings and gave us our only weekend record of Grey Wagtail. A stop there on Sunday morning gave us our Dusky Warbler. South Lock looks good and because so near the freeway may remain undeveloped. Another new area for us is South Lawn (midpoint at 30.849840, 121.897953), a stretch of grassy land at the inner base of the sea wall north of Luchao (Lúcháo Gǎng [芦潮港]). There we found flocks of Eastern Yellow Wagtail containing members of the nominate race as well as taivana.

Siberian Blue Robin (female), Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the strong black bill and very pale, pink legs.
Siberian Blue Robin (female), Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the strong black bill and very pale, pink legs. (Craig Brelsford)

All four of our views of Siberian Blue Robin occurred in the Nanhui microforests. In Shanghai, Sibe Blue offers a good example of how migrant traps work. This species will spend the summer in thick cover in the great forests of northeastern China, the Russian Far East, Sakhalin Island, and Japan. It is a master skulker. Flying up the Nanhui coast, with its dearth of forest cover, a Sibe Blue sees the microforests the same way a tired traveler sees a hotel after a long day on the road. In the Nanhui microforests, now thickly carpeted with daisies and grasses, watch your step! Tired migrants such as Asian Stubtail, Sibe Blue, Rufous-tailed Robin, and Pale Thrush will wait until your foot is inches away before exploding out.

Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Well-known because of its manic 'Brain fever!' call and common in south China, Large Hawk-Cuckoo is rarely recorded in Shanghai. This photo is by far the best I have ever taken of Hierococcyx sparverioides and occasioned much celebration by our team. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5, 1/2500, ISO 1250, hand-held.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Nanhui, 1 May. Well-known because of its manic ‘Brain fever!’ call and common in south China, Large Hawk-Cuckoo is rarely recorded in Shanghai. This photo is by far the best I have ever taken of Hierococcyx sparverioides and occasioned much celebration by our team. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5, 1/2500, ISO 1250, hand-held. (Craig Brelsford)

May Day is arguably the height of migration season in the Shanghai region. On sunny, warm days such as Sunday, the stimulation is constant, and exciting moments are many. Here is just one of many anecdotes: Nanhui, Sunday morning. Through Michael’s spotting scope I am enjoying a view of an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting that he and Elaine found. As I watch, a Pechora Pipit jumps into the circular view and drives the bunting away. An endangered bunting being chased away by a scarce passage migrant! Wow! Then Michael calls out that he has just seen a raptor. The bird disappears, and we get into our rented Buick and drive toward the trees into which it vanished. As we drive, out jumps Large Hawk-Cuckoo! Three rare Shanghai records in the space of five minutes!

The view of Yellow Bunting was team birding at its best. We were driving slowly on the semi-abandoned low road discovered a few months back by Michael. (The starting point of this road, which leads inland from a point behind the Magic Parking Lot, is 30.885592, 121.967369.) As we drove, we were kicking up foraging buntings, mainly Black-faced Bunting. Elaine and I, sitting up front, were the first to notice an anomaly: a yellow-shaded bunting with a mustache and goatee. It had to be Yellow Bunting! The bird disappeared. Michael and Elaine were going for a lifer, so we had to work carefully. We stopped the car and walked up and down the road, six eyeballs searching for the rare migrant. Elaine found it! Michael and I came running. Luckily for us, the bunting had found a feeding area it liked; it was loath to leave the road. Michael was ecstatic as he set up his spotting scope and watched the bunting feed.

Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata is a rare passage migrant on the Chinese coast. The bunting breeds in Japan and winters mainly in the Philippines. Its numbers have declined much over the years. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata is a rare passage migrant on the Chinese coast. The bunting breeds in Japan and winters mainly in the Philippines. Its numbers have declined much over the years. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. (Craig Brelsford)

On Thurs. 28 April, Elaine and I did a quick walk-through at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. The park is more than a hundred years old, has many tall trees, and offers some of the best mid-sized urban-park birding in Earth’s largest city. Zhongshan holds sentimental value for me because it is where I ticked Elaine as a lifer (i.e., I met her there).

Our visit of less than two hours brought Elaine and me six passage migrants: Yellow-browed Warbler, Sakhalin/Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Tristram’s Bunting. A seventh, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, was reported by another birder.

The focal point at Zhongshan is the little central pond (31.224111, 121.414194). On Thursday all 3 Narcissus Flycatcher were noted there, among them a female, as well as our Eastern Crowned Warbler and Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. A tiny island in the center of the pond is almost cat-free (some cats do make the jump) and contains several large trees. Thanks to the nearly daily presence there of bird photographer Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), the central pond is an information clearinghouse; Mr. Wang and his buddies are always eager to tell you what they have been seeing lately.

PHOTOS

Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016.
Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Chinese Egret, Nanhui, 30 April 2016.
Chinese Egret, Nanhui, 30 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Chestnut Bunting, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This colorful bunting breeds in the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Emberiza rutila winters in south China and Southeast Asia and is an uncommon passage migrant in the Shanghai region.
Chestnut Bunting, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This colorful bunting breeds in the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Emberiza rutila winters in south China and Southeast Asia and is an uncommon passage migrant in the Shanghai region. (Craig Brelsford)
Microforest, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Beautiful daisies grace the forest floor. Vegetation is thick, the leaves have sprouted, and birds are many.
Microforest, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Beautiful daisies grace the forest floor. Vegetation is thick, the leaves have sprouted, and birds are many. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Pechora Pipit perching on newly planted tree at Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 1 May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)