Update on Birding Lesser Yangshan Island, Shanghai’s Deepwater Port

by Mark Havenhand
for shanghaibirding.com

Mark Havenhand
Havenhand

Lesser Yangshan Island, Shanghai’s deepwater port off the coast of Cape Nanhui, is still birdable, but the situation has deteriorated. I was there last month. It had been 8½ years since I had first visited the island, known in Chinese as Xiǎo Yángshān (小洋山). With Covid restrictions making other out-of-town destinations risky, I thought a revisit could be pulled off.

Hanxiao Cai and I met guide Chloe Kan (WeChat ID: blessings-21) at the Dishui Lake Station (30.909430, 121.925640). We met plenty of security at the toll gate. We crossed the Donghai Bridge, one of the longest sea bridges in the world, 20 minutes of spectacular highway.

We stopped first by a large mudflat about a kilometre past the port. We found mudskippers and crabs plus 20-30 Kentish Plover and the odd Grey Heron. We drove on another 2 km and turned left onto a dirt road. We tried to enter a forest but were stopped by men demanding 168 yuan per person to continue; they did not have a ticket machine. Negotiation was not possible, so we walked around the headland—enjoying a Common Kestrel, Eastern Buzzard, numerous Blue Rock Thrush, and Little Bunting. The mild winter continues, so plenty of Clouded Yellow and brimstone butterflies were still flying.

After about 1 km we reached the sea wall—good to get some sea breeze with real waves hitting the defences harmlessly—but surprisingly few birds. We saw a Peregrine Falcon taking on a Western Osprey—and more of the rock thrushes. This area was peaceful and a world away from the busy port, but this may not last—ground leveling was ongoing and future construction seems assured.

I remembered “Garbage Dump Gully” (30.644194, 122.058660) and suggested we give it a try. No can do—it is now walled off and the guard firmly locked the gate in our face. What a pity—the hollow, with its dripping spring and pools, is a magnet for migrating birds. It was not only one of the best spots for birding on Lesser Yangshan but also one of the best birding spots in the entire Shanghai region. We tried the back route, now “developed for tourism” so also fenced off, derelict and inaccessible. The locals informed us the hill opposite (30.633940, 122.057731) with a large transmitter station on top is equally closed. We did not try Temple Mount (30.639778, 122.048256), another formerly outstanding site.

Is Lesser Yangshan Island still worth birding? There is little doubt the place offers fewer birding opportunities than several years ago. But we enjoyed the day out and saw some good birds, and our green Covid codes stayed green despite the trip into Zhejiang. Even now, I think anyone who aspires to know Shanghai has to see Xiǎo Yángshān.

MAP & PHOTOS

Lesser Yangshan Map
Lying 15.5 miles (25 km) off the coast of mainland Shanghai, and on a clear day visible from Shanghai’s Cape Nanhui, Zhejiang’s Lesser Yangshan Island offered birders a first-row seat on the East Asian-Australasian Migratory Flyway. The closure of much of the island to foreigners is a major blow to Shanghai birders. (ScotXW/Craig Brelsford)
Garbage Dump Gully
Currently off-limits to foreigners, Garbage Dump Gully (30.644194, 122.058660) was formerly birders’ first stop on Lesser Yangshan Island. The hollow, on the eastern end of the island within sight of Donghai Bridge, features a pool (lower L), a seeping spring, and lush vegetation, among which several tall trees. These elements contrast richly with the otherwise rocky, scrubby, and windy island and make the gully a magnet to migrating woodland birds. Because of sites such as Garbage Dump Gully, Lesser Yangshan Island was a must-bird location, on par with Cape Nanhui. Photo above is from April 2014, a time when foreigners were free to visit virtually any part of the island. (Craig Brelsford)
Temple Mount
Temple Mount (30.639773, 122.048256), so named because of old Guanyin Temple (the yellow building), was a close second to Garbage Dump Gully in the hearts of Yangshan birders. The area is larger than Garbage Dump Gully, more lightly wooded, and drier. Among the passage migrants regularly noted here were Northern Boobook, Siberian Thrush, and Dark-sided Flycatcher. Photo from April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Xiaoyangling Cove
Xiaoyangling Cove (30.644802, 122.061902) is one of the most beautiful places on Lesser Yangshan Island. Named after Xiaoyangling Pagoda (above), the sheltered inlet is accessible through a World War II-era tunnel bored through the mountain from Garbage Dump Gully. The site preserves much of the original island scrubland. In spring birders here enjoyed the song of breeding Meadow Bunting as well as the songs of passage migrants Brown-flanked Bush Warbler and Manchurian Bush Warbler. Photos from October 2014. (Elaine Du)
Lesser Yangshan Rarities
Every season yielded amazing rarities on Lesser Yangshan. Among them were (clockwise from top L) Varied Tit, Japanese Robin, Chinese Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Brown-eared Bulbul, and White-bellied Green Pigeon. All photos except Chinese Thrush taken on Lesser Yangshan. (Craig Brelsford)
Buntings
Lesser Yangshan Island is a particularly good place to find buntings. Birders have recorded as many as seven species of Emberiza on the island in a single day. Among the buntings of Yangshan are, clockwise from top L, Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides castaneiceps, Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans, Tristram’s Bunting E. tristrami, Chestnut Bunting E. rutila, Little Bunting E. pusilla, Yellow-browed Bunting E. chrysophrys, Rustic Bunting E. rustica, and (Japanese) Yellow Bunting E. sulphurata. Meadow Bunting is resident on Lesser Yangshan and absent in Shanghai. The others are spring and autumn migrants. All are regularly noted except Yellow Bunting, which is rare but recorded annually. (Photos by Craig Brelsford, except Yellow Bunting, by Kai Pflug)
Pale Thrush Yangshan
On Lesser Yangshan Island, birds exist in the shadow of one of the busiest container ports in the world. Here is migrating Pale Thrush with Donghai Bridge in background … (Craig Brelsford)
Temple Mount
… old Guanyin Temple overlooking the massive quay … (Craig Brelsford)
Lesser Yangshan Island
… and containers, highway, and natural scenery looking northeast from Temple Mount. Garbage Dump Gully is the lower strip of green to the left of the peak. (Craig Brelsford)
Brelsford in Garbage Dump Gully
Sheltered from harsh winds by its position deep in Garbage Dump Gully, the tree toward which shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford is walking became a hotspot-within-a-hotspot. In spring and fall, birders were virtually guaranteed to find on it passage migrants such as Goldcrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, and Blue-and-white Flycatcher. (Elaine Du)
Garbage Dump Gully
Birders search for migrating woodland birds in Garbage Dump Gully, April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Blue Rock Thrush
Among the more common sights on Lesser Yangshan Island is Blue Rock Thrush perching on the boulders. (Craig Brelsford)
Asian Brown Flycatcher
On Lesser Yangshan Island, many aspects of bird migration are readily visible. Here is normally insectivorous Asian Brown Flycatcher resorting to berries for a quick energy boost … (Craig Brelsford)
Brambling
… a flock of famished Brambling scouring a bush for seeds … (Craig Brelsford)
Grey Nightjar
… and a roosting Grey Nightjar gathering energy for its continued flight south. (Craig Brelsford)

FURTHER READING

shanghaibirding.com is the world’s best website on birding in Shanghai. Study our most popular pages:

Meadow Bunting

Lesser Yangshan Island Orientation Page: Part of Zhoushan Archipelago in the East China Sea, Lesser Yangshan Island lies 25 km off Shanghai’s Cape Nanhui and is linked to it by the Donghai Bridge. Migrating passerines are a major attraction. Meadow Bunting breeds on the island.

Siberian Blue Robin

Birding Cape Nanhui: Even in decline, the coastal area 85 km (53 mi.) southeast of downtown Shanghai is the premier birding spot in the city-province and one of the most famous birding sites in China. The microforests at Cape Nanhui are astonishingly effective migrant traps for woodland species such as Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and Siberian Blue Robin. The wetlands offer East Asian specialties Black-faced Spoonbill and Asian Dowitcher.

White's Thrush thumb

Birding the Urban Center of Shanghai: Century Park in Pudong offers excellent birding and is easily accessible on Metro Line 2. Yellow-bellied Tit, White’s Thrush, Red-flanked Bluetail, and Daurian Redstart are among the East Asian specialties commonly noted at Century and other parks in the urban core.

Cape Nanhui thumb

Birding Sites Around Shanghai: Use this page to help you find the right spots for birding in Shanghai and further afield in east-central China. The Shanghai region comprises the city-province of Shanghai plus parts of neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Habitats range from mudflats on the coast to wooded parks in the inner city and forested hills and mountains inland.

Click here to view the eBird hotspot page for Xiao Yangshan Island.

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford is the founder of shanghaibirding.com. 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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