Eurasian Bittern

A Bit of Lapland in Shanghai

by Craig Brelsford

On 30-31 Jan., Elaine and I noted 75 species at Cape Nanhui, Hengsha, and Chongming. We had 6 Lapland Longspur on Chongming and 50 Mew Gull at Nanhui. The pair of Cinereous Vulture remain on Chongming, and we saw a good portion (65) of the Hooded Crane wintering on the great alluvial island. Red-throated Loon was still at Nanhui, and Dishui Lake once again held Greater Scaup (8), Common Goldeneye, and Horned Grebe (3). We had an impressive 350 Northern Pintail in the sea off Nanhui, and though numbers of Gadwall (590) and Falcated Duck (720) were lower than in November, the species maintain a sizable presence on Hengsha.

Lapland Longspur
Lapland Longspur, Chongming. (Craig Brelsford)

The longspurs appeared late Sunday, just as snow was starting to fall. The inclement weather must have upset the Buff-bellied Pipit, Eurasian Skylark, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow using the recently plowed fields. Suddenly birds were flying everywhere. The grey sky made visual ID difficult, but some of the birds were calling and identifiable by call. But not all; so I took a flurry of record shots. In one series of images was a bird I had never seen before. I sent some of the images to Jan-Erik Nilsén, who told me that the facial pattern was typical of Lapland Longspur. And so it was. MacKinnon says Calcarius lapponicus “winters in small numbers along bare meadows along E coast between 30° and 40° N and along Changjiang River”; that is a box into which our situation neatly fits.

This 3-species-in-1 image shows 2 Kamchatka Gull (bottom L, top R), Vega Gull (large gull in middle), and Black-headed Gull (bottom R). Note the ‘kinder’ look of Larus canus kamtschatschensis; its more rounded head, in contrast to the more gently sloping forehead of the Vega; and its smaller size in comparison to Vega. (Craig Brelsford)

The views of Mew Gull Larus canus came about because of preparation and luck. Ever since Michael Grunwell moved to Shanghai last year, he has been telling me to look for Mew Gull in Shanghai; he was sure it would show up here in winter. Bolstering that suspicion was a recent report from Jonathan Martinez of Mew Gull in Guangdong.

Kamchatka Gull
Kamchatka Gull Larus canus kamtschatschensis. L. c. kamtschatschensis is larger and darker than the western forms L. c. canus and L. c. heinei. L. c. heinei is known to occur on the China coast and should be looked out for. (Craig Brelsford)

At Nanhui, gulls usually appear here and there. On Saturday, Elaine and I finally had a chance to view a large group. An afternoon tide was coming in just right, boxing about 300 gulls into a corner of the sea wall. Elaine and I were waiting with camera and spotting scope. “This is the day!” I said. Sure enough, among the dozens of Vega Gull and Black-headed Gull was a sizable element of Mew. We quickly distinguished them from the much larger Vega. The Mew we photographed seem to have a squarer head and beadier eye than would be the case with race heinei; we therefore believe our gulls are Kamchatka Gull Larus canus kamtschatschensis.

The Red-throated Loon was in the large pond behind the Holiday Inn and Magic Parking Lot. Elaine found it doing the scan. Six days earlier, we had 3 Red-throated Loon in a pond a few kilometers north. Around 500 of our Great Cormorant were perching on the giant ring in the middle of Dishui Lake. Driving along the sea wall, we saw a Red-throated Pipit eating seeds left over from the rice harvest, and in the mud below we found three bright-yellow taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

Rather than drive back to the city, Elaine and I drove straight to Changxing Island and took the ferry to Hengsha. We spent Saturday night at Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿; +86 135-0185-1814 and +86 150-2164-5467; 120 yuan).

Sunday brought 56 species on Hengsha and Chongming. Our stay of a little more than five hours on Hengsha revealed no extraordinary birds. Eurasian Bittern were unusually visible; 3 of the 5 we noted were standing more or less in the open.

We took the ferry back to Changxing Island, and there, sitting in traffic, I looked out the window of our Skoda Scout and saw 3 Goldcrest. We took the Shanghai-Changjiang Bridge across the Yangtze to Chongming.

Cinereous Vulture
After more than two weeks on Chongming, our Cinereous Vulture appear to be doing fine. (Craig Brelsford)

The Cinereous Vulture were a few kilometers south of the place where we had found them eight days earlier. As before, the vultures were standing on an earthen bank along the first row of fields behind the canal at the base of the sea wall. Nearby were the Hooded Crane and 21 Common Crane. The cold, grey day was enlivened by a colorful flock of 55 Grey-capped Greenfinch.

Mew Gull and Lapland Longspur became the 267th and 268th species of bird Elaine and I have noted in the Shanghai region since 11 Sept. 2015.


Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit eating grain at Cape Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Elaine Du
Elaine Du at pond behind Holiday Inn, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai. Elaine and I use the Swarovski ATX-95 telescope mounted atop our Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon-fiber tripod. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Its cover blown, this Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris emerges from hiding on Hengsha Island, Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)
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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford is the founder of Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. Now back home in Florida, Brelsford maintains close ties to the Shanghai birding community and continues his enthusiastic development of this website. When Brelsford departed China, he was the top-ranked eBirder in that country, having noted more than 930 species. Brelsford was also the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai, with more than 320 species. Brelsford’s photos of birds have won various awards and been published in books and periodicals and on websites all over the world. Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, published in its entirety on this website, is the most Shanghai-centric field guide ever written. Brelsford is a graduate of the University of Florida and earned a master's in business administration at the University of Liege, Belgium.

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