On 18-20 March 2016, Elaine Du, Kai Pflug, and I noted 89 species at Chongming, Dongtai, and Yangkou. We found a dowitcher at Dongtai, and at Chongming we had 90 cranes so far away and in such thick fog that we were unable to determine how many were the expected Hooded Crane. The canal at the base of the northeast Chongming sea wall gave us Common Goldeneye, Garganey, and Horned Grebe assuming breeding plumage and Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage. In addition to the dowitcher, Dongtai produced Greater Scaup, Common Merganser, and endangered Far Eastern Curlew and near-threatened Eurasian Oystercatcher as well as early Bar-tailed Godwit, Barn Swallow, and Bull-headed Shrike and singing Chinese Grey Shrike. Yangkou gave us early Black Drongo.
On Fri. 18 March Elaine and I left our apartment near Zhongshan Park in a Skoda Scout rented from Avis. We picked up Kai at his home in Jiading, Shanghai and drove to the ferry terminal on Changxing Island in the Yangtze River. Our plan was to take the ferry to Hengsha Island. The ferry was fogged out until at least 07:25, at which time we gave up and drove to Chongming. We noted 49 species there, our chief stops being a place rich in Common Snipe near the base of the eastern sea wall and the aforementioned canal where we found the goldeneye and grebes.
After dark we drove 236 km north on the G40 and G15 to Dongtai. There, we set up for two nights at Greentree Inn (Gélín Háotài Jiǔdiàn [格林豪泰酒店], 160 yuan/night for clean, modern room with fast Internet and breakfast, +86 (0) 515-85820999; 32.749262, 120.850125).
Sat. 19 March saw us note 60 species around what Elaine and I call the Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail. We had a neap tide that crested around 10:00, leaving the shorebirds far out. The godwit showed the slightly upturned bill and was associating with Eurasian Curlew, as was our lone Far Eastern Curlew. The dowitcher was far inside the sea wall and visible only through the spotting scope. It was showing more brown than grey and no orange. It had a long, seemingly straight bill like a snipe but unlike a typical snipe was alone in an area far from cover. We observed a clear sewing-machine feeding motion.
Intensive work is under way around the southeast corner of the reclaimed area. Digging machines were working throughout the weekend dredging up canals, changing forevermore areas where only last year Elaine and I found breeding Common Tern and territorial and possibly breeding Pied Avocet. The plan, clearly spelled out on the billboards near the tourist facilities, is to give nearly the entire reclaimed area over to aquaculture. The Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail offers the best coastal birding within 500 km of Shanghai, it is a critical staging area for Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, it is relied upon by Black-faced Spoonbill, Great Knot, and Far Eastern Curlew–and it is being transformed, utterly. How interesting it is to be birding at this moment in history on the Chinese coast, scene of an ecological disaster like few ever seen before.
On Sunday morning 20 March we again covered the Surf ’n’ Turf Trail. We moved down to Yangkou in the afternoon, and we sneaked in an hour’s worth of birding at Chongming on the way back to the city. At Yangkou we failed to note Brown-cheeked Rail at the spot where I have seen the species three times before. We used playback off and on for about 45 minutes and got no response. Reed Parrotbill were in the area. At the snipe spot on Chongming, I photographed as many of the flushed snipe as possible, trying to find Jack, Pin-tailed, or Swinhoe’s. The photos I got show only Common Snipe.
List 1 of 1 for Fri. 18 March 2016 (49 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). Cloudy; low 11° C, high 18° C. Wind N 6 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 231 (very unhealthful). Sunrise 05:59, sunset 18:05. FRI 18 MAR 2016 08:30-17:05. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.
Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 10
Garganey A. querquedula 4
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 270
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 50
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 10
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 18
Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus 3
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 12
Great Egret A. alba 5
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 22
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 7
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 120 Grus sp. 90
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 3
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 52
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 3
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 5
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 2
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 20
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 14
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 5
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 14
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 50
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 16
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/A. gulgula 40
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 40
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 20
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 2
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 13
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 320
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 12 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 3
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 15
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 12
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 9
Little Bunting E. pusilla 28
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 12
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 10
Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1
List 1 of 1 for Sat. 19 March 2016 (60 species)
Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Sunny, hazy; low 4° C, high 17° C. Wind NE 11 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 142 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:02, sunset 18:11. SAT 19 MAR 2016 06:40-17:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 64
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 5
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 40
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 7
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 18
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 4
Northern Pintail A. acuta 60
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 55
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 9
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 2
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 5
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 185
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 44
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 8
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1200
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 11
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 140
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 45
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 100
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 125
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 112
Long-billed/Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus/L. semipalmatus 1
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 1
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 255
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 7
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 10
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 2
Dunlin Calidris alpina 325
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 22
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris 2
Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 16
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 6
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus 1
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 8
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 15
Japanese Tit Parus minor 5
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 50
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 13
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 7
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 6
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 5
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 15
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 20
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 7
List 1 of 3 for Sun. 20 March 2016 (46 species). Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Cloudy; low 7° C, high 12° C. Wind NE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 112 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:57, sunset 18:06. SUN 20 MAR 2016 08:10-12:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 45
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 5
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 25
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 2
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 3
Northern Pintail A. acuta 31
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 6
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 6
Greater Scaup A. marila 8
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 7
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 58
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 25
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 7
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 153
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 138
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 34
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 120
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 2
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 250
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 160
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 50
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 8
Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 13
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus 2
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/A. gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 10
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 8
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 2
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 6
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 5
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 4
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 25
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2
List 2 of 3 for Sun. 20 March 2016 (18 species)
Yangkou (Yángkǒu [洋口]), fishing town in Rudong County (Rúdōng Xiàn [如东县]), Jiangsu, China (32.537730, 121.017746). Area visited: reed beds near Haiyin Temple (32.557387, 121.037381). Cloudy; low 7° C, high 12° C. Wind NE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 112 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:57, sunset 18:06. SUN 20 MAR 2016 13:20-14:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.
List 3 of 3 for Sun. 20 March 2016 (14 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). Cloudy; low 7° C, high 12° C. Wind NE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 112 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:57, sunset 18:06. SUN 20 MAR 2016 17:00-18:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Great Egret Ardea alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 30
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 4
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 8
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 4
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Featured image: German photographer Kai Pflug (L) and Craig Brelsford viewing Black-necked Grebe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 18 March 2016. Photo shows our arrangement well. Kai emphasizes photography, using his incredible new 800 mm F/5.6 lens. Craig is still in the photo game (see camera to his left) but is focusing more these days on bird ID, as evidenced by his use of his Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. Photo by Elaine Du.
It’s spring in Shanghai! The equinox hasn’t arrived yet, but Chinese New Year has passed, and in the parks the flowers are blooming. In recent days in Shanghai, Elaine and I have noted Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage, seen Greater Scaup lingering at Dishui Lake, and found Red-throated Thrush amid lawn-loving Dusky Thrush at Century Park.
We reached all our destinations on foot or by subway, with two short taxi rides thrown in. Development continues in Shanghai, and it’s a double-edged sword; the ever-more efficient transportation system allows one to bird Nanhui cheaply, but development is also threatening Nanhui, as more and more reed beds fall to the bulldozer and backhoe.
On Mon. 7 March 2016, fresh from our big trip to Dulong Gorge in Yunnan, Elaine and I did our first birding of the season at Zhongshan Park. We ran into Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), a delightful local man who loves to photograph birds. He never tires of watching the Red-flanked Bluetail and Common Kingfisher that use the wooded area around the little central pond. When we heard the thin calls of Yellow-bellied Tit and discovered them on a bare branch across from where we were standing, Mr. Wang said we had brought him good luck. We heard Eurasian Siskin and Chinese Grosbeak in the trees above. Japanese Tit are singing, and Chinese Blackbird have begun to breed. Pale Thrush are a reminder of winter. Mr. Wang proudly showed us the Indochinese Yuhina he photographed recently at Yangpu Park, and he told us that he has seen Silver-throated Bushtit at Zhongshan.
On Fri. 11 March, Elaine and I made Elaine’s first visit ever and my first since Christmas Day 2011 to Shanghai Botanical Garden. We noted 23 species. 2 Collared Finchbill raised the old question of whether they are really wild, and 2 Yellow-browed Warbler may be a sign that the spring migration is beginning or may merely signify that Yellow-browed remains in Shanghai throughout the winter; Shanghai definitely teeters on the northern edge of this species’ winter range.
We searched in vain for White’s Thrush, and we found only 1 Grey-backed Thrush. Among our 9 Pale Thrush was one completely tamed by the photographers, whose latest innovation is to spear mealworms on a thin, stiff wire and induce the Daurian Redstart to hover to reach them. The redstart was uninjured by this tactic, which is an ethical step up from fastening mealworms with tiny, ingestible nails (as I have previously found Shanghai-area photographers doing). The photographers were chasing the Pale Thrush off, but so hooked was the thrush on the free protein that it refused to go away and made occasional dives at the baited wire. Elsewhere, we heard in this most urban of settings the same “tseep, tseep” contact call that Pale Thrush make in the much wilder country near Elaine’s hometown in Heilongjiang—Pale Thrush breeding ground.
A search for buntings in the nursery area turned up 4 Black-faced Bunting, and an old memory of finding small waders floating on garbage in the river was revived when we saw 5 Common Snipe on Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河). Just as four and a half years ago, these poor snipe were on mats formed by garbage that coalesces in the stagnant water. The snipe were only roosting there, of course, and presumably at dusk they jump onto the nearby muddy ground of the nursery to feed; in any case, the canal, completely walled in, offers zero mud on which to forage.
Shanghai Botanical Garden Gate 4 lies 700 m from Shilong Road Station, Metro Line 3. It is the first place I ever birded in China, two weeks after my arrival in Shanghai in October 2007. I relived with Elaine the thrilling moment when I beheld White’s Thrush for the first time; a moment that at that time and at my level of experience with Asian birds was just as breathtaking as finding Rufous-breasted Bush Robin last month in Dulong Gorge.
On Sat. 12 March, Elaine, Michael Grunwell, and I found 40 species at Nanhui and Huangpu Park on the Bund. We covered Nanhui and the Bund on foot and walked about 16 km. At Nanhui we met a worker in a digging machine carving ditches through which to drain large areas of reed bed, which he said when dry will be leveled and replanted with trees. The operation was well under way; water was running through the newly cut channels as fast as a mountain stream.
This distressing transformation is going to spell disaster for the Reed Parrotbill that are still fairly common at Nanhui. It will mean the end of habitat much relied on by Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Chinese Penduline Tit for winter habitat, it will take away breeding habitat for Oriental Reed Warbler, and it will add to the troubles faced by Oriental Stork and Black-faced Spoonbill, already under pressure at Nanhui.
I have to wonder, when these huge transformative schemes are discussed in the corridors of power, are environmental experts even present? Have the planners even heard of Reed Parrotbill? Has anyone ever shown them a picture of Black-faced Spoonbill?
The only good news is that the artificial forests that will replace the historical reed-bed habitat will attract migrating passerines, which could use some help as they make their way up and down the Chinese coast. But that was cold comfort for us. “Pale Thrush will tseep where Reed Parrotbill used to chirr,” I sighed to my companions.
The bird scene at Nanhui was more wintry than spring-y, but we found tschutschensisEastern Yellow Wagtail assuming breeding plumage and at Dishui Lake found Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage. Dishui also yielded 7 Greater Scaup as well as Falcated Duck and Tufted Duck. Pied Avocet, Common Snipe, Dunlin, and Common Greenshank winter in the area; we saw no early evidence of spring migration among shorebirds.
Continuing our theme of birding-by-subway, we moved our party via Metro Line 16 and Line 2 to the Bund. There, Michael carefully picked through the ca. 150 Vega Gull (Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus) in a fruitless search for a rarity such as Kamchatka Gull or even Heuglin’s. Black-headed Gull were there.
The problem with gulling at Shanghai’s most famous landmark is that one is simultaneously examining some of the trickiest birds known to birding and dealing with dozens of onlookers interested in the laowai with the big lens. However, this most international of meeting points also sends interesting people your way, birders such as Shelley Rutkin, who noticed our activities and introduced herself. It’s a grand place to make friends, there on the Bund with the Pudong skyline as your backdrop.
Shelley told us that a birder reported Slaty-backed Gull on the Huangpu River. This birder was near Shangri-La Hotel on the Pudong side. I have yet to bird Huangpu River from the Pudong side and will be interested to hear how others fare there. Shelley also sent us an interesting image of Red-flanked Bluetail attacking a centipede. Thanks, Shelley!
On Tues. 15 March Elaine and I noted the Red-throated Thrush at Century. Elaine spotted the thrush at sunset at the spacious lawn that on park maps is labeled “Amenity Grass” (疏林草坪区). The thrush was in the company of 60 Dusky Thrush and 1 Naumann’s Thrush that had descended onto the lawn to feed. Turdus ruficollis is scarce in Shanghai; Elaine and I note it two or three times each spring and autumn.
The thrushes were among 28 species we noted on our first trip to Century in 2016. Except for the Red-throated Thrush, the lineup was typical of the place and season. We noted a personal record high of 54 Pale Thrush, and large numbers of White-cheeked Starling and Red-billed Starling were assembling in trees around the very effective Bird Island in the middle of the park. Chinese Blackbird, Chinese Grosbeak, and Japanese Tit were singing.
When we arrived at 15:00, the park was crowded with photographers taking pictures of the cherry trees in bloom. Elaine and I know the park well and retreated to the quietest corners, where we found shy species such as Yellow-throated Bunting and Grey-backed Thrush. As the sun was setting, Elaine found White’s Thrush on the edge of the spacious lawn, which 90 minutes before had been full of people and which now, with all the visitors gone, was turning into a thrush feeding ground.
Featured image: With the Pudong skyscrapers as their backdrop, Craig Brelsford (L) and Michael Grunwell scan the Huangpu River for gulls. Bund, Shanghai, Sat. 12 March 2016. (Elaine Du)
Editor’s note: For “Dulong Gorge, Yunnan: The First Week,” the first in this two-part series on birding Dulong Gorge, please click here.
The second half of our Dulong trip lasted 13 days, from 23 Feb. to 6 March 2016. Brian Ivon Jones, my wife Elaine Du, and I saw drier weather and a rich procession of birds, taking our species count to 170. We found Golden-naped Finch at bird-rich Sibia Lane, we noted Fire-tailed Myzornis at various locations, we marveled at Ibisbill on the Dulong River, and we witnessed a spectacular flock of 300 Grandala. With the clearing of mudslides that had blocked access to the southern end of the gorge, we spent five days around Qinlangdang. There, Brian noted Beautiful Nuthatch, and we found Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, Himalayan Cutia, and Scaly-breasted Cupwing. Driving and walking along the twisting roads, we noted Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Gould’s Shortwing, Long-billed Wren-Babbler, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, and the newly described Himalayan Thrush and Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush. Rufous-breasted Bush Robin made several appearances at various elevations, Himalayan Bluetail was noted in smaller numbers, and White-naped Yuhina and Yellow-throated Fulvetta often were in large flocks. Heading back to Kunming, we found Banded Bay Cuckoo near Wayaozhen.
RAIN, RAIN, RAIN … AND A REPRIEVE
The rain from the first week of the trip was still with us on Tues. 23 Feb. and Wed. 24 Feb., causing a mudslide near Bapo that blocked access to Qinlangdang. Even on Thurs. 25 Feb., skies were still grey, and despite the excellent weather on Fri. 26 Feb., the road to Qinlangdang was still blocked. We grit our teeth and birded on.
23 Feb. saw us note just 28 species, but among them were choice birds such as Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Golden-naped Finch, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, and Dark-rumped Rosefinch. We found Golden-naped Finch, the rosefinches, a few of our Fire-tailed Myzornis, and White-browed Fulvetta around Sibia Lane. This bird-rich spot on the Gongshan-Dulong Road has tall trees, rich undergrowth, and many birds, among them the Beautiful Sibia which are a constant presence there and for which the place is named. (For more information on Sibia Lane and other birding spots in Dulong Gorge, see List of Place Names near the bottom of this report.)
On 24 Feb. we noted 51 species despite the rain and despite doing all our birding within 12.5 km of Kongdang, our home base. One reason for our success was my re-discovery of Dulong Beach, a place I remembered from my 2014 visit and one of the few broad areas in that part of the Dulong Gorge. At Dulong Beach, one can park in a spacious parking area well off the narrow road, and it is possible to walk around. Great Cormorant roost on boulders studding the Dulong River, and occasionally a Mallard flies by; Himalayan Swiftlet can be seen in the corridor of sky framed by the gorge; Ashy Drongo and Striated Bulbul hawk insects high in the trees; White-naped Yuhina and Grey-cheeked Warbler browse in the trees; Golden Babbler join bird waves with Yellow-browed Tit, Rufous-capped Babbler, and Yellow-throated Fulvetta; and Chestnut-headed Tesia, Slaty-bellied Tesia, and Pygmy Cupwing call from the undergrowth.
We also birded an even broader area, Pukawang, the resort 8 km north of Dulong Beach and 4.5 km south of Kongdang. There we found Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Large Niltava, Rufous-breasted Accentor, and Little Bunting using the now-barren gardens and fields. Little Forktail was in the Dandangwang River. We found Elliot’s Laughingthrush.
25 Feb. saw us stymied in our quest for Qinlangdang by a mudslide at Bapo. We retraced our steps to Dulong Beach, where in a bird wave we found Black-throated Parrotbill. We had our first record of Grey-chinned Minivet, and at Pukawang we had our only record of Pied Bush Chat and only Dulong record of Eurasian Hoopoe. The next day saw splendid blue skies, but the still-blocked road meant we had to work the Gongshan-Dulong Road once again. There, we achieved stunning photos of the moon setting over the mountains, fresh with new snow. In the afternoon, we returned to Dulong Beach, where Brian spotted Black-crested Bulbul high on the ridge on the opposite side of the river.
RETURN TO QINLANGDANG
Once the weather improved and the road crews cleared the road, we headed straight for Qinlangdang and the southern end of the gorge. We spent five of the next six days here: Sat. 27 Feb. through Mon. 29 Feb. and Wed. and Thurs. 2-3 March.
On 27 Feb., during the 43 km drive from Kongdang to Qinlangdang, we stopped at Dulong Beach. There we met Ān Kǎi Xiáng (安凯祥, “Steven An”), a tour guide whom I have met on several occasions, and Hóu Tǐ Guó (侯体国), the man famous for running the photo blinds at Baihualing. They were guiding Erik and Henning, two Danes and friends of Jesper Hornskov. Erik and Henning paid this writer a nice compliment: They had read my post on Week 1 of the Dulong trip! We chatted awhile and admired a Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. Also at Dulong Beach, we saw Crested Kingfisher flying rapidly up the river and found Scaly Laughingthrush.
Further down, we yet again heard Long-billed Wren-Babbler calling from thick undergrowth on the side of the road; try as I might, I could not coax the bird out, but I recorded its call (00:03; 922 KB):
Driving back, nearing dark we got a lifer for Brian and Elaine: Rufous-backed Sibia. I captured sound and an image of this impressive bird (00:35; 2.2 MB):
On the morning of 28 Feb., again near Qinlangdang, and after hours spent searching for Beautiful Nuthatch with no success, I heard dueling Spotted Elachura singing from either side of the Dulong River. Dilemma: (1) Study elachura, a sure thing, or (2) invest still more time in searching for Beaut Nut? Brian opted for Choice 2 and walked ahead. Elaine and I chose Option 1 and achieved an excellent recording of the strange song of Spotted Elachura plus my closest views ever of the species. Here is what I captured (01:17; 3.9 MB):
Brian, meanwhile, found Beaut Nut! He radioed us, but we arrived too late. Congrats, Brian! We also got Himalayan Cutia, a lifer for Brian.
Other great birds from 28 Feb.: Black-headed Shrike-babbler and Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, another encounter with that Long-billed Wren-Babbler on the side of the road, Scaly-breasted Cupwing, good views of Striated Laughingthrush, and new looks at Blue-winged Laughingthrush and Scaly Laughingthrush. We found 4 Zoothera birds, most likely Alpine/“Yunnan”/Himalayan Thrush, feeding along the pre-dawn road and looking like nightjars (Brian’s apt description) as they fled our car.
29 Feb. saw us once again working the area around Qinlangdang. The terraced fields at the north entrance to the village are a good place for birds, yielding our only Dulong records of Hill Prinia, Slaty-backed Forktail, and Black Redstart as well as Blue-fronted Redstart and Olive-backed Pipit. At Brian’s nuthatch spot just north of town, relaxing in our parked car I got our only owl record of the trip: Asian Barred Owlet, calling unseen from the ravine on the opposite side of the river. In the morning, as we were driving to Qinlangdang we heard Brown-flanked Bush Warbler singing at Maku and at another place farther south.
On 1 March we changed direction, heading north 31 km on the paved road to Dizhengdang. There, we revisited the extensive farmland north of town. Within a large flock of Little Bunting, Elaine and I picked out 3 Godlewski’s Bunting. Blue-winged Laughingthrush were using trees between two abandoned farmhouses, and we found Snow Pigeon and a smart male Hodgson’s Redstart. Brian went off on his own, finding White-throated Dipper. We drove through Xiongdang to the road being constructed north of that village. We took it to a point 9 km north of town, where a rockslide stopped us. We noted Mountain Hawk-Eagle here.
Heading back, just north of Xiongdang, Brian, once again walking ahead, radioed us: “Ibisbill, flying downstream!” Brian deserves credit for insisting that this most unusual of waders would be on the Dulong. “The habitat is right; they must be here,” he said repeatedly. Now Brian had his reward, but what about Elaine and me? Would it be possible for us to get a view? It was up to me to guess where the Ibisbill had flown to. Zipping past Brian’s position, Elaine and I sped south in the Mitsubishi Pajero, splashing over a creek along the way. We approached the church in Xiongdang, and I said, “Let’s try here.” Elaine and I got out and, lo and behold, there were 4 Ibisbill along the rumbling stream below. Whew! Got ’em! Brian arrived, and we savored the view together.
On our two final full days in the gorge, 2-3 March, we dove back into the Qinlangdang area. We met Himalayan Thrush and Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush on the road, we had a strange encounter with an apparently lost Northern Lapwing, and we added Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike to our trip list. I achieved an excellent recording of the powerful song of tiny Scaly-breasted Cupwing (00:24; 1.7 MB):
We found several common birds that we had not noted before, among them Japanese Tit, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Chestnut Thrush. These late additions are an indication of the vastness of the forests and the long time it takes to get an accurate impression of the avifauna of this rich gorge.
BACK TO KUNMING
We took two full days to cover the 900 km between Kongdang and Kunming. On Fri. 4 March we spent the daylight hours driving the 90 km to Gongshan. We saw a massive flock of 300 Grandala, added Great Barbet to the trip list, heard Hill Partridge calling unseen, and noted Fire-tailed Myzornis and Golden-naped Finch. After refueling, we departed Gongshan at 17:15 and drove south on the S228. Along this amazing, narrow road, the lifeline for the dozens of communities along the Salween River, we saw folks taking sponge baths under the spigots along the road, saw people getting haircuts at open-air barber shops just inches from passing cars, and watched a drunken man nearly walk into the path of our car. Few roads are more interesting, or more dangerous, than the S228. Long after dark, we made it to Nujiang and pressed on, arriving exhausted at 01:15 in Wayaozhen, a town just a few kilometers north of the G56 freeway. Once again, we had made it through the Salween Gorge in good time, as before by driving mainly at night when traffic is less.
New birds came to us immediately the next morning: Red-vented Bulbul and Grey-breasted Prinia in the farm-garden area just across from Bababa Hotel, Grey Wagtail in a stream running between rows of houses, and White-browed Laughingthrush and Yellow-browed Warbler on the scrubby, partly forested hillside behind the hotel.
The grand finale, the fitting end to our profitable expedition, came later in the morning, less than a kilometer north of the G56. Driving on the G320 toward the freeway, I was scanning the hillside to our right and admiring the Mekong River to our left. I noticed a forested ravine that looked promising. Brian was game for a final hunt, and we set off into the unknown. Elaine stayed at the car, scanning the treetops with the spotting scope. Brian and I walked up the ravine until we could walk no more, then doubled back. Along the way we heard Slaty-bellied Tesia and saw Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. Brian picked up Grey-throated Babbler, a species we had noted in Dulong Gorge but that Brian had not seen well.
Brian went on ahead, and I stayed behind in the forest. Suddenly a Banded Bay Cuckoo appeared on a branch just 3 m from me, calling. This species is hard to find in China, has long been among my most desired of cuckoos, and was a lifer for me. I was without my camera, but I had my recorder and used it. In the recording, one notes the similarities and differences between the four-note call of Banded Bay and the well-known four-note call of Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus. The call of Banded Bay is a high-pitched whistle, whereas the call of Indian is fuller and throatier. Examine these recordings:
Banded Bay Cuckoo 1 (four-note whistle; 00:07, 1.1 MB)
Banded Bay Cuckoo 2 (rising call plus four-note whistle; 01:18, 3.9 MB)
I hustled down the hill to the car, roused Elaine and Brian, and took them up the hill. They both heard the call of Banded Bay Cuckoo. What a great addition to our list!
We took the G56 to Kunming Changshui International Airport, driving the last of the 2856 km that we logged on this trip. We spent the night in the strangely named but very clean Rainbow Interstellar Hotel (+86 871-65301666). On Sun. 6 March we flew home, Brian to Shenzhen, Elaine and I to Shanghai.
In Kongdang we checked into Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn (独龙江大酒店; +86 886-3066888, +86 139-8868-5660, 168 yuan/night). The hotel is new and clean. Electric power is intermittent throughout the village, and because of the uncertain electricity it is prohibited to run the air-conditioning unit; our room was usually chilly as a result. Hot water is not guaranteed. In 2014 I stayed in Dàpíng Bīnguǎn (大平宾馆; +86 139-8869-6984; 100 yuan); it’s still there, but we decided to stay at Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn because it is newer.
We flew into and out of Kunming rather than Baoshan or Dali because of the wider selection of rental cars. We worked with the rental-car company Héxié Zūchē (和谐租车; +86 871-67085834, www.zuche01.com). Héxié rented us a brand-new, four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Pajero, the perfect car for our trip.
Simple List of Species of Bird Noted in Yunnan, China, 16 Feb. to 5 March 2016 (170 species)
Burma: country SE Asia bordering Yunnan. Also known as Myanmar.
Cíkāi Zhèn: see Gongshan.
Dali (city) (Dàlǐ Shì [大理市]): county-level city in Dali Prefecture, NW Yunnan.
Dali (prefecture): (Dàlǐ Báizú Zìzhìzhōu [大理白族自治州]): prefecture NW Yunnan.
Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture: see Dali (prefecture).
Dandangwang River (Dāndāngwáng Hé [担当王河]): tributary of Dulong River. Confluence at Pukawang, 4.5 km S of Kongdang.
Dizhengdang (Dízhèngdāng [迪政当]; 28.079174, 98.325987): village Dulong Gorge 31 km N of Kongdang. Elev. 1850 m.
Dulong (ethnic group): indigenous people living in Dulong Gorge. Known in Chinese as Dúlóngzú (独龙族). At ca. 6000 members, the smallest of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China.
Dulong Beach (27.795076, 98.329884): birding area on scenic stretch of Dulong River 12.5 km S of Kongdang. Elev. 1460 m.
Dulong Gorge (Dúlóng Jiāng [独龙江]): canyon in Gongshan County, NW Yunnan bordering Tibet & Burma.
Dulong River (Dúlóng Jiāng [独龙江]): rises E Tibet, flows through Dulong Gorge into Burma, where it meets Mali River to form Irrawaddy River. Also known as N’Mai River.
Dulong River Road: see Gongshan-Dulong Road.
Dulong Valley: see Dulong Gorge.
Dulongjiang Township (Dúlóngjiāng Xiāng [独龙江乡]): all villages in Dulong Gorge fall under the jurisdiction of Dulongjiang Township, part of Gongshan County.
Dulongjiang Tunnel: part of Gongshan-Dulong Road; connects Salween & Irrawaddy basins. Elev. of E terminus: 2960 m. Elev. of W terminus: 2840 m.
Gaoligong Mountains (Gāolígòngshān [高黎贡山]): range running N-S 600 km from SE Tibet into W Yunnan & adjacent Kachin State in N Burma. Range divides Salween River & Irrawaddy River basins.
Gaoligongshan: see Gaoligong Mountains.
Gaoligongshan Dulongjiang Tunnel: see Dulongjiang Tunnel.
Gongshan (Gòngshān [贡山]; 27.741232, 98.665604): town NW Yunnan in Gongshan County. Also known as Cíkāi Zhèn (茨开镇). See also Gongshan County.
Gongshan County (Gòngshān Dúlóngzú Nùzú Zìzhìxiàn [贡山独龙族怒族自治县]): subdivision of Nujiang Prefecture in NW Yunnan. Contains Dulongjiang Township.
Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous County: see Gongshan County.
Gongshan-Dulong Road: road ca. 90 km connecting Gongshan & Dulong Gorge; also known as Dulong River Road (Dúlóng Jiāng Gōnglù [独龙江公路]).
Hēipǔ (黑普) Tunnel: tunnel in Gaoligong Mountains between Gongshan & Dulong Gorge. Once the main tunnel between Gongshan & Dulong Gorge; now largely superseded by Gaoligongshan Dulongjiang Tunnel.
Irrawaddy River: major river of Burma; a small part of Irrawaddy Basin lies in China (Dulong River).
Kongdang (Kǒngdāng Cūn [孔当村]; 27.874454, 98.336630): village Dulong Gorge 87 km W of Gongshan on Gongshan-Dulong Road. Also known as Kongmu (Kǒngmù [孔目]). Elev. 1490 m.
Kongmu: see Kongdang.
Kunming (Kūnmíng [昆明]): capital of & largest city in Yunnan, in the EC part of the province. A prefecture-level city.
Kunming Changshui International Airport (Kūnmíng Chángshuǐ Guójì Jīchǎng [昆明长水国际机场]; 25.101330, 102.934924): primary airport serving Kunming, lying 24.5 km NE of city center.
Lancang River: see Mekong River.
Maku (Mǎkù Cūn [马库村]): hamlet Dulong Gorge 37 km S of Kongdang and 6 km N of Qinlangdang. Elev. 1570 m.
Mekong River: river rising on Tibetan Plateau & flowing through Yunnan to Southeast Asia. In Yunnan often referred to as Lancang River (Láncāng Jiāng [澜沧江]).
Myanmar: see Burma.
N’Mai River: see Dulong River.
Nujiang River: see Salween River.
Pukawang (Pǔkǎwàng [普卡旺]; 27.839581, 98.327779), resort in Dulong Gorge 4.5 km S of Kongdang. Site of confluence of Dandangwang River & Dulong River. Elev. 1480 m.
Qinlangdang (Qīnlángdāng [钦郎当]; 27.686833, 98.283097): village Dulong Gorge 43 km S of Kongdang. Elev. 1220 m.
Salween-Irrawaddy Drainage Divide: the ridgeline of the Gaoligong Mountains separates the Salween & Irrawaddy basins.
Salween River (Nùjiāng [怒江]): river rising on Tibetan Plateau, flowing through W Yunnan & into Burma, & emptying into Andaman Sea.
Sibia Lane (27.909517, 98.410674): birding area on Gongshan-Dulong Road with many tall trees. So named because Beautiful Sibia are abundant there. Area extends ca. 1.5 km from bridge crossing large stream E toward Dulongjiang Tunnel.
Robson, C. 2005. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA. Our first reference in Dulong Gorge and western Yunnan.
Smith, Andrew T. and Yan Xie, eds. Mammals of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA. Our first reference for mammals in China.
Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World. xeno-canto.org. Craig has downloaded hundreds of calls from this Web site.
Featured image: The sublime spectacle of the moon setting over the Gaoligong Mountains at dawn was our reward for enduring days and days of rain. Photo taken on Gongshan-Dulong Road near Kongdang on 26 Feb. 2016. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/9, 1/320, ISO 640. (Craig Brelsford)
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And how many times have I said, “It didn’t have to be this way!”?
With yet another friend’s recent disaster fresh on my mind, I offer you herewith my photo-backup system—a system through which I haven’t lost a single photo in years, despite taking thousands of shots.
(1) The most important rule of backup is, whenever possible, have at least two copies of everything digital that you create. For me, backup begins in the camera itself, with the memory card in Slot 2 (“Card 2”) being the backup of the card in Slot 1 (“Card 1”).
(2) As soon as my photo session is over, I transfer the photos on Card 1 to my laptop. At that point, I have three copies of the work that I created that day. After the transfer has occurred, I put Card 1 back in Slot 1 and immediately reformat it. In this way, I reduce my number of copies back to two, but I also reduce to zero the chance that any virus on my computer can be transferred to my camera.
(3) As soon as the transfer from Card 1 to the laptop is complete, I back up the contents of my laptop to an external hard drive. I have a MacBook Pro and use Time Machine to make the copy to a Seagate 2 TB portable hard drive. At this point I again have three copies of that day’s work.
(4) I next perform off-site backup by uploading my best photos of the day to Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. Google and Microsoft both offer 15 GB of free hard-drive space per account.
(5) When Card 2 is full, I do not immediately reformat it. Instead, I store Card 2 in my camera bag and replace it with a fresh card. Note that by putting full Card 2s in the camera bag, I achieve limited off-site storage, because during the day I usually keep my laptop and external hard drive locked up together in my luggage at the hotel. My bag is with me out in the field.
(6) For very long-term storage, I have two more backup hard drives at my apartment here in Shanghai and duplicates of those hard drives stored off-site. The hard drive on my laptop eventually fills up. Older work is periodically removed from the laptop backup system and placed in two hard drives, one the duplicate of the other, at my apartment here in Shanghai. These permanent archives are themselves backed up onto still more hard drives, which are placed in secure locations in China and in the United States.
Under my system, I have two copies the moment I press the shutter button and within a few hours may have as many as four copies of that photo, one of those copies in the Cloud. I have permanent archives within easy reach and copies of those archives at secure locations. I never lose anything, and almost as importantly, I never worry about losing anything. Data loss is something I don’t think much about anymore, because I have a good backup system that is now second nature to me.
I repeat: My backup system is second nature to me. It may seem complicated to you, but it is simple to me. With practice, it could be simple to you, too.
Why do many photographers lack a backup system? One reason is laziness. Another is fear; losing one’s work is something too terrible to contemplate. It is better, however, to see system failures not as unthinkable but as inevitable, and to prepare accordingly.
In 2014 the motherboard of my MacBook Pro suddenly failed. I had backed up to my external hard drive half an hour earlier. Replacing the motherboard was costly enough—but at least I was spared the loss of precious data.
Question: When are you going to implement your backup system?
Featured image: Backup tools: MacBook Pro (C); Seagate Backup Plus 2 TB Portable Drive (L); SSK All-in-1 Card Reader plus USB cable and SanDisk 16 GB memory cards (R). (Craig Brelsford)
Last July, Elaine and I spent two weeks covering the vast Hulunbeier region of Inner Mongolia with Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. On our very first day (11 July 2015), we had a rare breeding record of Great Grey Owl. We found the owls at 49.501528, 121.364934. The story below comes from Elaine’s and my report, Inner Mongolia & Heilongjiang, 2015:
“As we were driving, we saw, far in the distance atop a billboard, a Great Grey Owl. As I stepped out of the car to admire it, a car came from the opposite direction and scared it away. We sighed, drove to the billboard, and parked. Would the owl come back? No. But something interesting occurred. From somewhere in the forest came begging calls, which I recorded (00:08; 1.1 MB):
“Those are clearly the begging calls of a juvenile Great Grey Owl. A breeding record! That is good news, though not wholly unexpected. Though ‘very rare in China’ (MacKinnon), Strix nebulosa lapponica has one stronghold in this country, and that is the Greater Khingan Range of Hulunbeier–a fact known to the birders who find the species here each year (usually in winter). What’s more, next to us was ideal Great Grey Owl habitat, being ‘dense boreal or coniferous forest … with openings,’ as Handbook of the Birds of the World describes it–again, no surprise, as the forest next to which we were standing is known to hold Great Grey Owl and other owls. Why, then, is a breeding record important? A breeding record matters because it confirms that at least some of the Great Grey Owl in the region are not simply wandering to Hulunbeier in the winter but are using the area year-round.”
Why am I posting this news now? For months, the recording of the begging calls lay in my computer, inert. Recently, reviewing the events of July 2015, I happened upon the recording. I remember Jan-Erik mentioning, way back in July, that we may have a breeding record of Strix nebulosa. But we got busy and never followed up, and so only now can we report this interesting record.
The report from which this post was derived, Inner Mongolia & Heilongjiang, 2015, is just one of many richly illustrated, useful reports on the shanghaibirding.com Explorations page. Plan your big China trip, learn about birding, or just sit back and enjoy our accounts of our birding expeditions in China. We are adding more and more of my sound recordings to the reports for a true multimedia experience. You’ll love Explorations!
Featured image: L-R: Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, and Jan-Erik Nilsén, on the S301 between Genhe and Labudalin, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, China, 19 July 2015.
Editor’s note: For “Dulong Gorge, Yunnan: Part 2,” the second in this two-part series on birding Dulong Gorge, please click here.
A week in Yunnan is under our belt, and Dulong Gorge is yielding amazing Himalayan specialties. Among the species noted by us so far are Fire-tailed Myzornis, Grandala, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Striated Laughingthrush, and Assam Laughingthrush as well as Gongshan Muntjac. We have noted western Yunnan favorites Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Beautiful Sibia, Rusty-fronted Barwing, and Streak-throated Barwing. We have heard the mournful whistle of Hill Partridge, found a flock of 140 Tibetan Serin, noted Goldcrest in a mixed flock at 2960 m, and discovered 4 Eurasian Teal looking out of place on the Dulong River. Also using the river are Common Merganser, Great Cormorant, Crested Kingfisher, and Brown Dipper. Crimson-breasted Woodpecker was a lifer for us, and Wallcreeper delighted us all. We noted a troop of Stump-tailed Macaque.
HOW WE GOT TO DULONG GORGE
To reach this remote valley, on Tues. 16 Feb. Elaine, our partner Brian Ivon Jones, and I drove non-stop from Kunming Changshui International Airport to Gongshan, a grueling twelve-and-a-half hour, 814-km ride. Brian, an Englishman living in Shenzhen, is the person who first gave me the idea of visiting the Dulong Gorge; this is my fourth birding trip with him. From Kunming we took the G56 to the G320 and S228 north of Baoshan. We drove the narrow S228 at night because we guessed that traffic in the dozens of towns along the Salween River would be less. We were right. At 03:15 Wednesday we arrived exhausted but in good spirits at Gongshan.
On Wednesday morning 17 Feb., we stocked up on food and fuel at Gongshan. We filled the tank of our rented Mitsubishi Pajero and, after applying for a permit with the local government, filled a 30-liter tank with gasoline. The 30-liter tank would be our extra source of fuel, for there are no gas stations in the Dulong Gorge.
We birded the Gongshan-Dulong Road 87 km to Kongdang. On the Gongshan side, still in the Salween basin, we noted our first of many Ashy-throated Warbler, Yellow-browed Tit, Whiskered Yuhina, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, and Green-tailed Sunbird. A bird wave at elev. 1980 m gave us views of less-common birds such as Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Grey Crested Tit, and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. At a scenic overlook at 2450 m, we found a stunning male Blue-fronted Redstart. At about 2600 m, we began to notice snow on the ground. At 2960 m, near the eastern terminus of the Dulongjiang Tunnel, with snow lying deep all around us, a bird wave passed. It contained Coal Tit as well as our first Rusty-flanked Treecreeper and Goldcrest.
On the other side of the tunnel, at elev. 2260 m, we noted Darjeeling Woodpecker and Beautiful Sibia at a stretch of road I call “Sibia Lane.” I never fail to find Beautiful Sibia there. At the bridge below we found Yellow-browed Tit and a flock of Black-faced Warbler.
In Kongdang, the administrative center of the Dulong Gorge, I found a town much different from the one I met during my first trip here in June 2014. Bridges are being built, a row of new hotels and restaurants has arisen, and a gas station is under construction. Despite the progress, this valley still feels like a land that time forgot. Some Dulong people keep the tradition of animal sacrifice, and we have seen two old women with tattooed faces.
DULONG GORGE FROM END TO END
We spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday exploring the areas south, north, and east of Kongdang. On Thurs. 18 Feb. we drove to Qinlangdang, the village at the southern terminus of the Dulong Gorge road and the last stop before the China-Burma border. We noted 45 species and covered elevations ranging from 1220 m at Qinlangdang to 1570 m along the cliffs north of that village. Great Cormorant and Crested Kingfisher were a surprise. An impressive bird wave just south of town netted us many trip firsts, among them Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Niltava, and Silver-eared Mesia. At stops along the road we found Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, a lifer for all of us, as well as Golden-throated Barbet, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Rusty-fronted Barwing, and Alpine Accentor.
On Fri. 19 Feb. we headed north. We easily found Wallcreeper, and in the heavily forested opposite bank of the river we heard the harsh cries of Striated Laughingthrush. As we drove, we scanned the river carefully, particularly the calm spots. At one such spot we found 4 Eurasian Teal. They were not feeding and must have been using the gorge as a conduit to more suitable waters. South of Xiongdang, conifers and other alpine flora begin to predominate, and the landscape looks profoundly different from the lusher, warmer areas around Qinlangdang. We found a scree slope far above us and, using my spotting scope, I pulled in a flock of 8 Grandala.
Dizhengdang occupies one of the broadest areas we have seen in the Dulong Valley and is an excellent place for birding. At the fringes of the farmland are scrubby areas that hold many species and will surely hold more come spring, and there is a collection of abandoned farmhouses and adjacent gardens that will be nicely overgrown a few months from now. We finally were able to leave the car here and walk around. We picked up many trip firsts, among them Himalayan Buzzard, Snow Pigeon, Grey-backed Shrike, Black-browed Bushtit, and White-throated Redstart. We drove north to the village of Xiongdang. We drove past the church in Xiongdang on a dirt road that is soon to be a paved highway to Tibet. We stopped 3 km north of the village. As it was late afternoon and because the road was getting rougher, we decided to turn back. We noted Common Merganser and Brown Dipper, and as we approached Xiongdang again we encountered another Wallcreeper.
Sat. 20 Feb. saw us head back up the Gongshan-Dulong Road. We birded an elevation range of 1350 m, from 1490 m in Kongdang to 2840 m at the snowy western terminus of the Dulongjiang Tunnel. Elaine saw a bird that had to be either Ward’s or Red-headed Trogon, and we heard the cries of Hill Partridge on the ridges above us. At Sibia Lane, elev. 2260 m, Elaine cried out, “Myzornis!” Brian and I came running and found a pair of this quintessential Himalayan bird. A pair gave us clear views before retiring into the undergrowth, and we found another pair nearby. The beautiful, emerald-green cross between parrotbill and babbler was a lifer for Elaine and Brian. I had seen the species in 2014. I said to my fellows, “Before this expedition, it was My-zornis. Now it’s Your-zornis, too!”
Striated Laughingthrush and Assam Laughingthrush were hard-won ticks. A flock of 4 of the former appeared screaming above us on the Gongshan-Dulong Road. The fig tree on which they were feeding was directly above us, 25 m high. I leaned back and took record shots, set down my camera, and recorded the harsh cries before a car came and forced me to pause. Later, examining the photos and listening carefully to my recording, we were able to get the ID. Here is the recording I made of Striated Laughingthrush (00:08; 1.1 MB):
The Assam was almost as tricky. Walking along the road, I scared off a single laughingthrush. As Black-faced Laughingthrush has been the most commonly seen laugher so far, I played back a recording of that species to see whether I would get a response. The Assam called back from cover. It was obviously not a Black-faced, but what was it? The bird alighted very briefly on a backlit branch, a silhouette against the sky; this allowed me to determine its size and nothing more. But I had recorded the call, and comparisons to Assam recordings I have downloaded from xeno-canto.org allowed me to make the ID. Here is my recording of the brief call (00:03; 905 KB):
On Sun. 21 Feb. it rained all day and we did no birding. In Kongdang electricity was out for most of the day, and even the cell-phone signal died. We took advantage of the down time to sleep.
Mon. 22 Feb. saw us redo our route to the Dulongjiang Tunnel and back. The big find of the day was not a bird at all but the mysterious Gongshan Muntjac. We were at the large clearing at 2300 m on the Gongshan-Dulong Road. I had just recorded a lively pair of Bay Woodpecker and was walking back toward the car and Brian. My partner was looking at a dark spot below us on the road. Brian and I aimed to shoot, and I found to my horror that the ultra-high humidity of the gorge had compromised the focusing mechanism on my lens. I had to focus manually, and by that time the muntjac had turned its back to us. Brian captured the earlier moment when the deer was still facing us; I could only get photos of it looking away. The diminutive, rare deer scurried under the guardrail to cover. We walked downhill to the point where it had stood. Above us, we heard a sound like a man imitating a dog barking. Muntjacs are also known as “barking deer”; now we knew why. We believe we photographed a doe and that the buck was barking from cover. So little is known about Muntiacus gongshanensis that IUCN lists it not as endangered or near threatened but as “data deficient.” Almost all photos taken of the species have been done by camera traps. We have photos of an animal that we saw. I also recorded the barking (00:19; 1.6 MB):
The other mammalian highlight was Stump-tailed Macaque. Walking along the road, I noticed rustling in the bamboo far down slope. At first I thought I had startled a herd of small deer. I got this impression because the animals were on the ground and were on all fours. I was able to determine that the animals were macaques. I noted a bare face and nub of a tail. We estimate the troop contained about 10 individuals.
Amid these glories, the birding was not bad at all! We added these species to the trip list: Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Bar-throated Minla, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, White-browed Fulvetta, Himalayan Bluetail, Rufous-breasted Accentor, and the recently re-described Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush. Elaine, who is familiar with the Zoothera thrushes because of my keen interest in this genus, radioed me: “Himalayan Thrush!” I ran back and just managed to capture record shots. The bird I photographed has the dark ear coverts, yellow base of lower mandible, and yellow legs that distinguish Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush from Himalayan Thrush. Thank you for alerting me, Elaine!
Other big news: 290 Grandala in two flocks, an impressive 168 Tibetan Serin, a Fire-tailed Myzornis whose loud calls caused us to stop the car to look, and yet more welcome encounters with Rusty-flanked Treecreeper and Rufous-breasted Bush Robin.
In Kongdang we checked into Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn (独龙江大酒店; +86 886-3066888, +86 139-8868-5660, 168 yuan/night). The hotel is new and clean. Electric power is intermittent throughout the village, and because of the uncertain electricity it is prohibited to run the air-conditioning unit; our room was usually chilly as a result. Hot water is not guaranteed. In 2014 I stayed in Dàpíng Bīnguǎn (大平宾馆; +86 139-8869-6984 100 yuan); it’s still there, but we decided to stay at Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn because it is newer.
We flew into Kunming rather than Baoshan or Dali because of the wider selection of rental cars. We worked with the rental-car company Héxié Zūchē (和谐租车; +86 871-67085834, www.zuche01.com). Héxié rented us a brand-new, four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Pajero, the perfect car for our trip.
Featured image: Grandala roosting in tree along Gongshan-Dulong Road, Dulong Gorge, Yunnan, 22 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
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110,000 words. Months of research. Weeks in the field.
The result: Shanghai birding as it has never been covered before.
Our Reports page is up. It is an index to the book-length reports that Elaine Du and I have been writing about birding in Earth’s largest city.
The latest report, just completed, is called Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16. It covers the birding season from 11 Sept. 2015 through last week. This 40,000-word report lists the 268 bird species we noted and has heretofore unpublished photos and sound recordings. To our knowledge, never in a single document has birding in Shanghai been covered so thoroughly.
The latest report joins Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2015 (31,000 words, 243 species) and Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2014-15 (39,000 words, 216 species). The reports contain highlights, two versions of our species list, our itineraries, GPS coordinates of birding sites, recommended hotels, interesting anecdotes, lamentations on the state of the Chinese coast, and paeans to the amazing birds we witness.
Are you planning a trip to Shanghai and curious about the birds you could find at that time of year? The blog will give you current news, and Reports will show you what has been found in previous years. Do you live in Shanghai and want to know what birding is like throughout the year? Start your research on our blog; dig deeper with Reports.
In the coming weeks, Elaine and I will start the spring 2016 report.
Featured image: Craig Brelsford puts the finishing touches on Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16, one of three reports featured on the new Reports page on shanghaibirding.com. (Elaine Du)