Horned Grebe in Shanghai!

Since returning in September from our two-month Amur River Basin trip, Elaine and I have been birding almost exclusively around Shanghai. On 11 Sept. we started “Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16.” Through last Sunday we have noted 252 species for that report. Sunday brought us two additions to the list: Sand Martin and Slavonian Grebe (IOC calls it Horned Grebe). The 3 Horned Grebe were among an impressive thousand or so birds on Dishui Lake and were joined by 13 Black-necked Grebe, 9 Greater Scaup, and 240 Falcated Duck. In all we noted 58 species on Sunday. On Saturday at Hengsha with Michael Grunwell, rain stunted our efforts a bit, but we managed to note 55 species.

Japanese Thrush, Dishui Lake, Sunday. Turus cardis is a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is most commonly seen in October. This record was our latest ever in Shanghai for the species. On a wet, gloomy morning, the thrush was foraging on the grassy medial strip.
Japanese Thrush, Dishui Lake, Sunday. Turus cardis is a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is most commonly seen in October. This record was our latest ever in Shanghai for the species. On a wet, gloomy morning, the thrush was foraging on the grassy medial strip.

On the road ringing Dishui Lake, Elaine and I got our latest-ever Shanghai record of Japanese Thrush. 25 Eastern Yellow Wagtail ssp. taivana were present on the muddy areas fringing the reed beds. Last year, taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai, an unexpectedly northern record; I and I hope others will be looking for more taivana winter records in the coming months. The Sand Martin were among 50 late Barn Swallow and were flying over the lake behind the Holiday Inn at Nanhui. Among our other Nanhui notables were 170 Tufted Duck on Dishui Lake, 90 Eurasian Spoonbill (no Black-faced Spoonbill noted), 2 Western Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, and 5 Rustic Bunting.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana, Nanhui, Sunday. Look for taivana along the muddy fringes of the reed beds and ponds. Last year taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana, Nanhui, Sunday. Look for taivana along the muddy fringes of the reed beds and ponds. Last year taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai.

At Nanhui, a long wait deep in the reed beds produced no Water Rail/Brown-cheeked Rail, but on Hengsha I got a very quick auditory record. Michael and I had taken a long walk on an unpaved road through excellent reedy habitat and were enjoying a sustained view of a flock of Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Suddenly, the rail cried out, but was not heard again.

Also at that spot, a Jack Snipe blew its cover, remaining visible in flight long enough to reveal its short bill. We viewed Merlin and heard three flocks of Reed Parrotbill.

This Sand Martin was associating with Barn Swallow at Nanhui.
This Sand Martin was associating with Barn Swallow at Nanhui.

Earlier, during a talk with some local crabbers, we were told that beginning next year it’s game over for the reclaimed area at Hengsha–development of the container port will begin. Michael, who had never been to Hengsha before, was much impressed with the site, and concurred with my view that it is one of the top places to bird in Shanghai. The view of some 6000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond only solidified Michael’s opinion. Fearing the worst for Hengsha, we looked longingly and hopefully across the Yangtze to the protected Jiuduansha islands, barely visible.

More views of Horned Grebe. Podiceps auritus has a flatter head than Black-necked Grebe, the peak of the head being well behind the eye. In winter plumage, the black cap is neater than that of Black-necked Grebe, with no bulge on the cheek as with Podiceps nigricollis. Note the whitish spot on the lores here. This individual is an adult.
More views of Horned Grebe. Podiceps auritus has a flatter head than Black-necked Grebe, the peak of the head being well behind the eye. In winter plumage, the black cap is neater than that of Black-necked Grebe, with no bulge on the cheek as with Podiceps nigricollis. Note the whitish spot on the lores here. This individual is an adult.

Rain turned to frozen rain, and we drove slowly on the sea-wall road along the eastern and northern edges of Hengsha. Some salt-marsh habitat remains between the sea wall and the tide line, and there we found 3 Ruddy Shelduck, a welcome bit of color amid the bleakness. Wooded areas on the inland side of the wall produced White’s Thrush and Yellow-throated Bunting.

Dishui Lake should be a part of anyone’s winter Nanhui itinerary. As it’s just a few hundred meters from Line 16 Dishui Lake station, even birders without a car can enjoy a long walk around the circular pond.

Rustic Bunting, Nanhui, Sunday.
Rustic Bunting, Nanhui, Sunday.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 5 Dec. 2015 (54 species)

Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), a small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to birding area at 31.297333, 121.859434. Excellent view of large pond at 31.331804, 121.883224. Cloudy with drizzle turning to steady light rain. Winds SW 3 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:38, sunset 16:51. High 7°C. SAT 05 DEC 2015 07:20-14:00.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 3
Falcated Duck Anas falcata ca. 2000
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 1
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 1
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 30
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 4
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 10
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 8
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 2
Little Egret E. garzetta 30
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 5
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/R. aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 2500
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 30
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 10
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 18
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 30
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 25
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 30
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 20
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 10
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 15
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 5
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 5
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 20
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 6
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

A chipper Elaine Du pauses while searching for Water Rail at Nanhui, Sun. 6 Dec. 2015.
A chipper Elaine Du pauses while searching for Water Rail at Nanhui, Sun. 6 Dec. 2015.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 6 Dec. 2015 (58 species)

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 at Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782), Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), the empty blue-roofed building & nearby microforests (30.961368, 121.952136), and Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Mostly cloudy, becoming partly cloudy. Visibility 0-5 km. Sunrise 06:40, sunset 16:51. Low 4°C, high 10°C. SUN 06 DEC 2015 07:30-16:40.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 240
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 40
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 170
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 9
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 70
Horned Grebe P. auritus 3
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 13
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 90
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 40
Great Egret A. alba 16
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 30
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 2
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 220
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 13
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 10
Dunlin Calidris alpina 25
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 5
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 15
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 2
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 50
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 5
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 7
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 7
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 12
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 16
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 25 taivana
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 56
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 7
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 6
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 5
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 2
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 5
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

Featured image: Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus, Dishui Lake, Shanghai, China, 6 Dec. 2015.

98 Species at Top Shanghai Sites

On 28-29 Nov., Elaine and I noted 98 species at three of the Shanghai region’s top sites: Lesser Yangshan Island, Nanhui, and Hengsha Island. On Hengsha Main Pond we noted 3200 Falcated Duck. We noted Water/Brown-cheeked Rail at Nanhui and at Hengsha, and among the hundreds of ducks at Dishui Lake were 10 Greater Scaup as well as 15 Black-necked Grebe. A beautiful jack Merlin was grounded by rain on Hengsha, and another on Nanhui scared up a cloud of rather late Barn Swallow. Verditer Flycatcher resorted to the reeds in the treeless reclaimed area on Hengsha, and on Lesser Yangshan we saw juvenile Lesser Coucal. That tiny island was characteristically thrushy, with Red-throated Thrush and Naumman’s Thrush appearing alongside Dusky Thrush, Pale Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Chinese Blackbird, the latter not commonly seen on Lesser Yangshan.

Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman's Thrush.
Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman’s Thrush. (Craig Brelsford)

The 9000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond were overwhelmingly of just three species: Falcated Duck, Gadwall, and Eurasian Coot, with sprinklings of Mandarin Duck, Common Shelduck, Common Pochard, and Black-necked Grebe. I had never seen so many birds in a single place in Shanghai Shi. The reclaimed area on which the pond sits is under no environmental protection; the area is slated to be turned into a giant container port.

Hengsha Main Pond is in the northwest quadrant of the reclaimed area, hard by the fenced border with Hengsha Island proper. We viewed the pond from the perimeter road, the other side of which contains farms and trees. While scanning and counting, we noted Hair-crested Drongo and Dusky Warbler. Earlier, in the reclaimed area we once again noted Chinese Grey Shrike and a single Water Pipit. We hadn’t seen Intermediate Egret in a while. Robin-like Red-flanked Bluetail were absent from the treeless reclaimed area, but chat-like Daurian Redstart turned into reed-bed specialists; we noted 18.

Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited.
Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited. (Craig Brelsford)

On Saturday Elaine and I were joined by veteran English birder Michael Grunwell. Lesser Yangshan was its typical late-November self, serving up its usual fare of Daurian Redstart, less common delicacies such as Yellow-bellied Tit, and a main course of buntings, this time Meadow Bunting, Little Bunting, Yellow-throated Bunting, and Black-faced Bunting.

The diversity of ducks on Dishui Lake was a welcome surprise. Common Shelduck appeared here as well, and we sifted through the Tufted Duck to find the Greater Scaup. The Mandarin Duck were seen on a pond inside the sea wall and attracted some photographers, who paid little attention to the nearby flock of 800 Kentish Plover.

Mandarin Duck, Nanhui.
Mandarin Duck, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

At Nanhui as well as at Hengsha, we selected places likely to hold Water Rail or Brown-cheeked Rail. There, we played back recordings of Rallus aquaticus. On both occasions, we got a loud call from someplace deep within the reeds, but no appearance. While waiting at Nanhui, we noted a flock of Reed Parrotbill.

We spent Saturday night at Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿; +86 135-0185-1814 and +86 150-2164-5467). For 120 yuan we got a simple double room with bathroom down the hall. Meals are usually available there, but we arrived too late. We had freeze-dried meals with us; they once again proved to be a big asset, allowing us to eat a full meal after a long day birding.

By positioning ourselves on Hengsha the night before we birded, we saved ourselves our typical early wake-up in the city and a dash to Changxing Island for the first ferry.

The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. Look for a bend in the road, a gap in the fence, and a broken causeway below. Photo by Elaine Du.
The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. (Elaine Du)
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui.
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye.
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: While Craig Brelsford consults Collins Bird Guide, Michael Grunwell uses Craig’s Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope to view Greater Scaup. Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 28 Nov. 2015. (Elaine Du)

Koklass Pheasant Highlight Tianmu Trip

On Sunday 22 Nov. 2015, I completed a rainy three-day trip to the Tianmu Mountains, 270 km (170 miles) southwest of Shanghai. The highlight was 4 Koklass Pheasant on Saturday. My wife and partner Elaine Du and I found the pheasants on a long walk down the mountain road at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. We found several other common south China species rarely or never recorded in Shanghai, among them Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Collared Owlet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, White-crowned Forktail, and Little Forktail. Among the wintering birds were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Mugimaki Flycatcher.

After many weeks spent 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. Many of the species we saw have ranges that extend not much farther north than Tianmu.

On Saturday we took the bus to the parking lot at Longfengjian, 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 (2 miles) below Longfengjian, 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. In the high-quality habitat of Tianmu, large and well-protected, pheasants may be numerous.

At that clearing, the view the pheasants take in is superb, especially on a wet day, with clouds partly filling the valley below. 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 Longfengjian is mixed broadleaf-conifer. The moderately thick undergrowth is composed partly of short, wispy bamboo. 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 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 the doorstep of Shanghai, and we appreciate more than ever the transitional, north-south character of east-central China.

PHOTOS

Koklass Pheasant droppings.
At the spectacular clearing below Longfengjian, Koklass Pheasant droppings suggest a substantial presence of these unusual gamebirds. (Craig Brelsford)
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 (3,350 ft.). (Elaine Du)
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. Note the bare vegetation, the 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)

NOTES

To view our checklists from this trip, go to eBird:

20 Nov. 2015
21 Nov. 2015
22 Nov. 2015

Other posts about Tianmushan:

Tianmushan: A Must See Site for Shanghai Birders (Part 1)
Tianmushan: A Must See Site for Shanghai Birders (Part 2)
Tianmushan in July
Trip Report: Tianmushan, 1-3 April 2019

Featured photo: Female Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha, Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, Sichuan, 20 May 2013. Pucrasia macrolopha ranges from the Himalaya to eastern China. The species may be common at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. (Craig Brelsford)

Keep shanghaibirding.com on the web. Donate today.




Brown-cheeked Rail at Yangkou

On Sun. 15 Nov. 2015, Elaine and I found Brown-cheeked Rail and Black-winged Kite at Yangkou and at Chongming saw 23 Hooded Crane and Chinese Grey Shrike. We added Scaly-breasted Munia to our fall-winter list.

I found the rail in the reed beds near Haiyin Temple. On 8 May 2010, I found a Brown-cheeked Rail at the same site. Today I was hoping to see Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, a bird known to overwinter in Yancheng up the coast. After 30 minutes, a Brown-cheeked appeared at the edge of the reeds, right under a small flock of Reed Parrotbill.

Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus, Yangkou, 15 Nov. 2015. Formerly considered conspecific with Water Rail R. aquaticus, Brown-cheeked Rail is a poorly understood species.
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus, Yangkou, 15 Nov. 2015. Formerly considered conspecific with Water Rail R. aquaticus, Brown-cheeked Rail is a poorly understood species.

Much is not known about the movements and distribution of Brown-cheeked Rail. The spot at Yangkou may be worth checking regularly for this species.

At Yangkou the great rush of passage migrants has slowed, and the area is settling into its winter phase. The forest at Haiyin Temple is quiet, and the trees are shedding leaves.

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 15 Nov. 2015 (43 species)

Yangkou (Yángkǒu [洋口]), fishing town in Rudong County (Rúdōng Xiàn [如东县]), Jiangsu, China (32.537730, 121.017746). Among areas visited: Haiyin Temple (Hǎiyìn Sì [海印寺], 32.558756, 121.044740), unpaved road N of Haiyin Temple (32.570807, 121.015638), reed beds near Haiyin Temple (32.557387, 121.037381), & microforest near Haiyin Temple (32.558400, 121.038250). Thick morning haze giving way to mostly sunny skies; high 14°C. Wind ENE 3 km/h. Sunrise 06:24, sunset 16:57. SUN 15 NOV 2015 08:15-11:30.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 8
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 65
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 5
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 100
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 3
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 8
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 17
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 8
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 20
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 8
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 7
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 10
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 7
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 4
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 14
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 4
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 22
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 6
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 4
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 6
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 7

Juvenile Scaly-breasted Munia browsing seed heads on Chongming Island, Shanghai, 15 Nov. 2015.
Juvenile Scaly-breasted Munia browsing seed heads on Chongming Island, Shanghai, 15 Nov. 2015.

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 15 Nov. 2015 (24 species)

Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Thick morning haze giving way to mostly sunny skies; high 14°C. Wind ENE 3 km/h. Sunrise 06:24, sunset 16:57. SUN 15 NOV 2015 16:00-17:05.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha ca. 500
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 6
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 13
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Great Egret A. alba 17
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 22
Hooded Crane Grus monacha 23
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 6
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 6
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 10
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata 2
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 3
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 1

Featured image: Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 15 Nov. 2015.

80 Dalmatian Pelican at Dongtai

At Dongtai on Sat. 14 Nov. 2015, the Dream Team noted 80 Dalmatian PelicanBlack-faced Spoonbill once again were present at this great, unprotected wetland. Among the species appearing in considerable numbers were Common Pochard (300), Eurasian Oystercatcher (150), Pied Avocet (300), Grey Plover (2000), Kentish Plover (300), Eurasian Curlew (1200), Dunlin (800), and Saunders’s Gull (250). We noted Falcated Duck and Tufted Duck.

Michael Grunwell and husband-and-wife team Stephan and Xueping Popp left Shanghai at 03:30 and arrived at Yancheng at 06:30. Elaine and I met them on the Surf ‘n’ Turf Trail at Dongtai. Approaching from the south, we got a call from an excited Michael, who said, “Get up here! There’s a flock of 80 Dalmatian Pelican right in front of us!” Elaine and I arrived in time. In one eyeful I was seeing more pelicans than I had seen in my previous eight years in China.

We noted once again that the southeast corner of the sea wall is the last place in the area to be covered with the incoming tide. We were there as the tide moved in (it never reached the wall here), and noted the impressive shorebird numbers listed above.

The light was fading by 16:30. Elaine and I bade farewell to the trio and returned to our hotel. Michael, Stephan, and Xueping returned to Shanghai.

Featured image: Dalmatian Pelican at Dongtai, Jiangsu, 14 Nov. Listed as Vulnerable by IUCN, Pelecanus crispus breeds from Serbia to Mongolia, with Mongolian breeders wintering along the China coast. Populations in the western parts of its range are stable and even increasing, but the populations in Mongolia and China are in dire trouble. (Craig Brelsford)

Sijiao Island

Recently, there seems to have been an influx of Japanese migrants in Shanghai. The Dream Team noted 37 Japanese Thrush on 7 Nov., and Japanese Robin and Yellow Bunting have been reported in the Shanghai area. Elaine and I decided to try to determine whether the islands farther out than Lesser Yangshan are part of the Japan-China migration route. The thesis that Elaine and I were trying to prove is as follows: “Inasmuch as Sijiao Island is larger, more thickly vegetated, better protected, and farther out to sea than Lesser Yangshan, the selection there of migratory birds, especially those from Japan, is richer than at Lesser Yangshan.” Thesis 2: “As Sijiao Island is the northernmost of a line of islands oriented roughly on a N-S axis, many birds having crossed the East China Sea from Kyushu will use that line of islands as stepping stones to mainland Asia at Ningbo, Zhejiang.” After visiting Sijiao Island 11-13 Nov. 2015, Elaine and I have found little to support those theses. Sijiao Island is densely populated, with only the steep hillsides and mountaintops unused by humans. We found only one gully that compares to Garbage Dump Gully and Temple Mount on Lesser Yangshan.

Sijiao Island is small and crowded. The easily accessible areas at the mouths of the gullies are taken up by towns and farms, and the hillsides are too steep and thickly vegetated to bird. After a long search, I finally found a gully containing a small garbage dump and crude terraced gardens above. Paths to the gardens provided access to the secondary forest. In this cramped area I found about 30 species, among them weakly singing Brown-flanked Bush Warbler.
Sijiao Island is small and crowded. The easily accessible areas at the mouths of the gullies are taken up by towns and farms, and the hillsides are too steep and thickly vegetated to bird. After a long search, I finally found a gully containing a small garbage dump and crude terraced gardens above. Paths to the gardens provided access to the secondary forest. In this cramped area I found about 30 species, among them weakly singing Brown-flanked Bush Warbler. (Craig Brelsford)

This post contains a description of our three days on Sijiao plus visits to Lesser Yangshan and Nanhui at the beginning and end of the trip.

On Wed. 11 Nov., after the alarm woke us at 04:00, Elaine and I drove our rented Skoda from our apartment near Zhongshan Park in Puxi to Garbage Dump Gully on Lesser Yangshan. The gully was busy. Yellow-bellied Tit is not often seen on Lesser Yangshan, and we saw a female Japanese Thrush. Among the 10 Red-flanked Bluetail were 2 adult males. Chinese Sparrowhawk was distinguishable by the lack of bands on the wing linings.

We had to wait for the 11:30 ferry to Sijiao Island. During the crossing, which Elaine and I spent on the deck, we saw not a single bird. At Sijiao we drove off the ferry and started looking for habitat. I was looking for flat, wet areas near the mouth of a gully, but I soon saw that every bit of that sort of land has been put to use by the local people. Next, we searched for gullies higher up the steep, thickly vegetated mountainsides. We found one gully, now being used as a garbage dump, with gardens higher up. This gully produced about as good a mix of species as I have come to expect at Temple Mount and Garbage Dump Gully. We found Yellow-breasted Bunting, 2 Chestnut Bunting, and 2 Tristram’s Bunting, and we had long, close views of Brown-flanked Bush Warbler. A pair of Black Kite soared overhead, and a Rook passed over. Nearby, on the road just below the overlook at Dabeishan Scenic Area, we found Taiga Flycatcher. Daurian Redstart were numerous, and the sound of Light-vented Bulbul was constantly descending on us from the steep hillsides above.

Another look at the crude gardens and secondary forest near Dabeishan Scenic Area on Sijiao Island. Note entrance to WWII-era tunnel.
Another look at the crude gardens and secondary forest near Dabeishan Scenic Area on Sijiao Island. Note entrance to WWII-era tunnel. (Craig Brelsford)
At the eastern end of Sijiao Island around Liujingtan Scenic Area one can view original scrub habitat. Farms and settlements are few, and the loudest sound is that of the surf hitting the rocks. We found three species of thrush here as well as Japanese Sparrowhawk.
At the eastern end of Sijiao Island around Liujingtan Scenic Area one can view original scrub habitat. Farms and settlements are few, and the loudest sound is that of the surf hitting the rocks. We found three species of thrush here as well as Japanese Sparrowhawk. (Craig Brelsford)

Thurs. 12 Nov. 2015
Sijiao Island

Elaine and I noted 40 species on Sijiao Island. We marveled at the original scrub forest on the eastern end of the island, and I returned to the unnamed garbage dump. Although we found no evidence of major migrations from Japan, the birding was nonetheless solid.

My day started at the unnamed garbage dump near Dabeishan. In two and a half hours, I noted 27 species. I had a first-of-season Rustic Bunting and heard Brown-flanked Bush Warbler singing weakly. The pair of Black Kite patrolled the sky above, and a Peregine Falcon zipped in, trying to catch one of the dozens of Light-vented Bulbul. I got a good look at Dusky Thrush, and I saw 5 Hawfinch.

I explored the hillsides around the gully, finding more good habitat. In the gully I walked into an old military tunnel and found dozens of centipedes as long as my hand.

The most unusual sighting of the day was this Hair-crested Drongo. What was this southeast China resident doing 40 km off the coast?
The most unusual sighting of the day was this Hair-crested Drongo. What was this southeast China resident doing 40 km off the coast? (Craig Brelsford)

I returned to our hotel to pick up Elaine. We drove toward Liujingtan Scenic Area on the eastern edge of the island. Along the way, we noted Hair-crested Drongo and a singing male Meadow Bunting. At Liujingtan, we declined to pay 100 yuan for the right to drive a mere 700 m beyond the gate. From the parking lot Elaine and I scanned the valley below. I followed a trail heading into the valley and soon found myself in uncut scrub–the primeval “forest” of Sijiao! The scenery was outstanding. Pinkish-brown rocks stand firm against the crashing sea. I moved down to a spot near the water, where the parking lot and civilization above were unseen. The great emptiness of the sea yawned before me. It was an odd sight, but the whistles of the ubiquitous Daurian Redstart pulled me back. Eyebrowed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, and Pale Thrush were taking berries from the many fruiting trees, and from a sturdy branch a Japanese Sparrowhawk was doing its own form of bird-watching.

Would I recommend a visit to Sijiao Island? If you are willing to spend about 600 yuan to get your car to Sijiao and back to Lesser Yangshan, and if you would like to spend an hour or two in line and another 80 minutes one way on the ferry to get here, then, yes, you should go–but if Elaine’s and my two days here are any indication, then you will find many of the same birds that can be found on Lesser Yangshan and at Nanhui. You will find better scenery, especially around Liujingtan, a larger area to bird than is the case on Lesser Yangshan, and more peace and quiet. The Wu dialect of the people here, so similar to Shanghaihua, reminds us that this island is close to Shanghai, but because it’s 40 km off the coast, requires hours to reach, and offers rocky coasts with crashing waves, Sijiao feels like a different world. It may not be worth a special trip, but birders here on a family visit will very much find it worth their while to bird the areas I have researched.

Fri. 13 Nov. 2015
Lesser Yangshan & Nanhui

At Nanhui, Elaine and I found a late Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and 7 Black-faced Spoonbill. Buff-bellied Pipit were numerous. We noted 2 Peregrine Falcon on Lesser Yangshan.

The day began on Sijiao Island. We awoke at our small hotel and drove through the rain to the ferry terminal. The crossing was uneventful. Once on Lesser Yangshan, we drove straight to the parking area at Temple Mount and began birding. At Garbage Dump Gully we noted a female Mugimaki FlycatcherFicedula mugimaki always being the last of its genus to depart the Shanghai area. 3 of the 6 Red-flanked Bluetail were adult males. Impressive flocks of Brambling contained a total of 175 individuals. One of the Bull-headed Shrike was an adult.

At Nanhui we squinted into the backlit mudflats and found hundreds of duck, the most numerous by far being Eastern Spot-billed Duck. I managed to pick out several Mallard and a Northern Pintail before the cloud of birds moved even further out. We visited all 8 of the microforests and found Taiga Flycatcher, Goldcrest, and the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. We birded till dark then drove to Dongtai, Jiangsu.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Lesser Yangshan.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Lesser Yangshan. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Rock, sea, and hills covered with original Sijiao scrub, Liujingtan Scenic Area, Sijiao Island, Zhoushan, Zhejiang, China, 12 Nov. (Craig Brelsford)

70 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

On Sat. 7 Nov. 2015 our birding Dream Team noted 70 species. Nanhui once again outshone Lesser Yangshan, yielding 12 Black-faced Spoonbill and Dalmatian Pelican. Japanese Thrush were particularly abundant, with a count of 37. A juvenile Rook, uncommon in Shanghai, flew by briefly, and we noted 3 Reed Parrotbill.

At Nanhui we noted 37 Japanese Thrush, a high for me at that location. I paid particular attention to the females, shown here, as they are even more shy than the males.
At Nanhui we noted 37 Japanese Thrush, a high for me at that location. I paid particular attention to the females, shown here, as they are even more shy than the males. (Craig Brelsford)

The unseasonably warm day began on Lesser Yangshan. We saw two sizable flocks of Brambling, noted Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Black Kite, and found singing Meadow Bunting, territorial even in November.

At the Magic Parking Lot in Nanhui, we waited with the photographers for a smart male Siberian Rubythroat before driving down to the empty, blue-roofed building. The scrubby fields near the building produced 7 Japanese Quail as well as Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, the Rook, and several of the Japanese Thrush. In the nearby microforests, Japanese Thrush and Eyebrowed Thrush were massing in big flocks, underscoring the importance of those woodsy oases amid the reeds and rice fields that cover most of the area.

Exhausted from the heat, we sat down in Microforest 1 to rest. This was a good decision, as the quiet sitting allowed shyer birds to appear from the reeds just behind the trees. Among these were Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler and the Reed Parrotbills. A Brambling loitered on the forest floor, grooming itself. A Siskin, too hungry to care about us, picked at a seed head just meters away. Red-flanked Bluetail and Daurian Redstart foraged right at our feet.

At the Magic GPS Point, a Pale Thrush flew into a window at the garishly large, completely empty building next to the Holiday Inn. I picked up the unconscious bird, an adult male. The thrush had flown hundreds of kilometers to get to Nanhui, but it was exquisite, a beautiful specimen, flawless and clean. I stroked the incredibly soft, smooth feathers, marveling at their beauty. We snapped pictures of the outer tail feathers showing the white tip, important for ID’ing Pale Thrushes in flight. We set it down in a flower bed next to the rotten carcass of a Black-capped Kingfisher that doubtlessly had met its end by flying into the same huge windows. We feared the thrush was dead, but to our surprise, when we came back a while later, the thrush had disappeared. Few Chinese pick up dead birds, and I’ve never seen cats in the area, so it is highly possible that the thrush survived the collision and went on its way.

Holding this Pale Thrush, feeling its body heat, admiring its pristine plumage, flawless despite the long flight from northeast Asia–what a moving experience. We thought we had lost this adult male, but when we returned later and saw no bird, we were filled with hope.
Holding this Pale Thrush, feeling its body heat, admiring its pristine plumage, flawless despite the long flight from northeast Asia–what a moving experience. We thought we had lost this adult male, but when we returned later and saw no bird, we were filled with hope. (Craig Brelsford)

The Rook, a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region, required some analysis; it was a good thing I got photos. Looking at the photos on my MacBook, I had the following thought process: (1) Bill, forehead much unlike Large-billed. (2) Is our bird therefore Carrion Crow or juvenile Rook? (3) Mark Brazil (Birds of East Asia) has Rook as a winter visitor to Shanghai region but has Carrion Crow no further S than Hebei. Elaine and I also have experience with Rook in this region; we noted 2 Rook on Lesser Yangshan on 20 Sept. 2014. We have never noted Carrion Crow in the region. (4) My photos clearly show a crow with a straight culmen, not decurved like that of Carrion–a straight culmen being a classic feature of Rook.

This bird has a culmen less decurved than that of Carrion Crow, leading me to believe that it is a juvenile Rook.
This bird has a culmen less decurved than that of Carrion Crow, leading me to believe that it is a juvenile Rook. (Craig Brelsford)

The all-black crows are uncommon in Shanghai. Whenever birders see an all-black crow in this area, we should take it seriously and try hard for an ID. Many birders find crows boring, but Rook in Shanghai is one of the most interesting records we had that day.

The Dream Team consists of veteran birder Michael Grunwell, husband-and-wife team Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, Elaine, and me. With Michael’s knowledge and Xueping and Elaine’s diligence, and with Stephan and me taking care of the record shots, the Dream Team almost always nails the ID.

Eyebrowed Thrush breeds from central Siberia to Kamchatka and winters from south China to Indonesia. These graceful birds have already come a long way, and they still have far to go.
Eyebrowed Thrush breeds from central Siberia to Kamchatka and winters from south China to Indonesia. These graceful birds have already come a long way, and they still have far to go. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Stephan Popp using Craig’s spotting scope, Elaine Du in background. Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 7 November 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

Captive Sparrowhawk

Japanese Sparrowhawk
Captive Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine and I did a double-take today when, walking from the bus stop to the metro after birding Binjiang Forest Park here in Shanghai, we saw a Japanese Sparrowhawk on a specially made perch. I asked for the owner, who came out and told me his pet was legal, since he’s “raised him since he was young.” To prove his claim, he pointed out the ring on the sprock’s left tarsus, which displays his phone number. I still didn’t believe the sprock was legal, but I left off arguing with him, in part because I wanted to study his bird. It’s a real beauty, a juvenile in good condition. I must say I loved the opportunity to see a sprock up close. The first thing that struck me was the slightness of the bird–no bigger than a kestrel. Close inspection of the talons and bill brought home the reality that sprocks are meat-eaters, born for the hunt. And the eyes! Imagine if humans had eyes so large in proportion to the rest of the face. We would look like aliens. What visually biased creatures birds are, and especially sprocks. I identified this bird as Japanese Sparrowhawk on the basis of its small size, gular stripe, and combination of barring and streaking on the underparts. This bird wasn’t panicking at the sight of us, but it was jumping around a lot, suggesting that it had been caught recently.