Cape Nanhui Through the Eyes of a First Time Shanghai Birder

by Brian “Fox” Ellis
for shanghaibirding.com

Fox Ellis
Brian ‘Fox’ Ellis

I arrived in Shanghai on a Monday night, expecting a full day of performances at a local school on Tuesday. Because Xi Jinping was in town, schools were closed at the last minute, and I had a day for birdwatching. I jumped online and found shanghaibirding.com, a truly wonderful website created and curated by Craig Brelsford, who now lives in Florida but still manages the site. They have great directions on where to go and what you might find there. My friend Alberto, who had never been birdwatching before, was along for the ride.

Shanghai is the largest city in the world, the size of Delaware, yet there is really good birdwatching just a few steps outside several subway stops. New York City is the only rival I can think of in the U.S., with Central Park, Brooklyn Park Zoo, and Jamaica Bay all good stops on the NYC Subway.

Granted, it is a long subway ride to Cape Nanhui, actually three subways, two transfers, and the third ride is an elevated train. But the last half hour is a visual smorgasbord, a beautiful mix of urban development, unusual architecture, recently planted parks, and historic farmland. There are traditional fishermen with seine nets in the creeks and waterways. And I saw my first Asian egrets in the trees above a small stream.

When we arrived at Dishui Lake and came up out of the subway station, the sun had come out. The faint scent of a sea breeze blew across the park that fronted Dishui Lake. Hopping along upon the pavement was a White Wagtail just a few feet from us. This bird is starkly black and white, robin-sized, and unafraid of fellow pedestrians. In a recently planted tree, right at eye level was a Goldcrest. This kinglet was so close I could almost reach out and touch it! As it rounded the branch it gave us a great series of views, top and bottom. The golden crown-stripe was obvious without binoculars. Though a new bird for me, it felt like home, reminding me of the close cousin we have back in Illinois, Golden Crowned Kinglet.

We started walking around Dishui Lake with great anticipation for more birds. Within a few hundred steps we had seen a shrike, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, and a couple more wagtails. But then we encountered a large section of the lakefront that was closed off in preparation for future development. After a kilometer or more of pavement and few birds, we decided to abandon our effort to walk all the way out to the bay and back. Though we both liked to walk, it seemed foolish to spend the best hours of the morning just trying to get to the Magic Parking Lot and microforests. We called a cab.

The cab driver took us to what was the Holiday Inn, which appeared to be abandoned. Many of the doors along the balconies were open, yet there were very few cars in the parking lot. Thankfully, there were birds.

Though I consider myself an experienced birdwatcher with a good knowledge of bird families, I felt stumped again and again. And without internet access, my eBird app and Merlin were not much help. I had downloaded Merlin bird packs, but kept coming up cold on the IDs. I know that was a shorebird and this one was exhibiting flycatcher behavior, that was a shrike, and those were sparrows, but I was just making notes on identifying characteristics and hoping to ID them when I got back to my apartment, my bird book, and the internet. We walked a long stretch of recently planted trees on one side of the road and a long stretch of some sort of pampas grass and the mouth of the Yangtze River on the other side. The birds thinned out. There was a crew of about 20 men using hand scythes to cut down all the weeds under the recently planted trees.

I left my buddy to nap on the concrete embankment. I headed down a little dirt road between two mudflats. I saw a small cinnamon-colored bird that was fly-catching. There was a small flock of shorebirds, sleeping, their heads tucked into their wings. In the distance was an egret with three grebes diving near her. A kestrel came up out of the reed bed and hovered, helicoptering high overhead. It dove back down into the tall grass and disappeared. I got a really good look at another cinnamon-colored bird with a distinct gray cap, black face and neck, and white triangles on both wings. Within about 20 minutes I had added half a dozen new birds to my life list, if only I knew their names. I had notes and good mental images.

I headed back towards mi amigo and we headed towards the former Holiday Inn. There were lots of abandoned picnic tables and bbq grills out back. There are actually two hotels, one clearly abandoned, but the former Holiday Inn had a work crew out back putting up new signs, signaling a new owner and a second life. There were picnic tables that were being used and several cars parked in the backlot. We headed in to use the toilet. We decided to get coffee at the sixth floor restaurant. It offered a gorgeous view of the bay.

Shortly after we had ordered and sat down, a mother and daughter came in, both carrying nice binoculars. I said hello. They spoke very little English, and I speak no Mandarin. But using our bird apps we were able to share a few birds we had seen. More importantly, they helped me to ID a few of the mystery birds. Most importantly, they offered to take us to the magical microforests and show us more birds. After a quick lunch of fried rice and coffee, they whisked us off to better birding.

I thought the morning was good, and I was very happy with the birds I had seen, but the afternoon was great and I added 22 new species to my life list! Nora, the daughter, is a better birder than her mother, or so she said, quite proudly, in her self-described Chinglish. She has been birding for three years and her mother for one year. At first they were offering to take us to the spot, drop us off, and then head on their way. Then they asked if we wanted to see some shorebirds. I said yes. They stopped along the levee and Nora’s father pulled out a Swarovski spotting scope. We all got really good looks at a small flock of Dunlin feeding on a mudflat. There was also a smaller flock of grebes diving out in deeper water and a Great Egret feeding on the distant shore.

We climbed back in their car and drove along the levee to the microforest. There were several birders there with large-lensed cameras and a cacophony of birdsong, even though it was already a warm afternoon. The mother, Rong Zhao, started pointing out little songbirds left and right. She would look it up in her smartphone and find an English translation and I would add it to my bird list. In quick succession we saw Daurian Redstart, male and female, Yellow-throated Bunting, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Grey-backed Thrush, and Dusky Thrush.

They were very generous with their time and patient with my questions while we visited two more of the microforests, adding Brambling and Red-flanked Bluetail to the list. But a few things quickly became quite clear: Though the government has gone to great lengths and great expense to plant several rows of trees along mile after mile of these coastal roads, they are all the same two species, a larch and a pine, pretty, and pretty monotonous monoculture. It is only in the more diverse or weedy patches that have a variety of trees, vines, and berries that you find birds. And because these microforests are well-trafficked, the abundance of litter left this birdwatcher feeling a little blue.

Can an effort be made to add to the diversity of the well-manicured forests so that instead of a few small patches of bird-friendly habitat there are miles of possible parklands for birds to rest and refuel as they migrate along the coast? We saw a large work crew planting acre after acre of non-native trees. Can the birdwatchers reseed these areas with native vines and shrubs?

And instead of foot traffic everywhere, could a more well developed trail be built that parallels the road, allowing birders better access without causing so much disturbance to the birds? These are questions the members of Shanghai Birding are asking. Hopefully they can find the answers they seek. Their passion for birds and birdwatching was encouraging. Even more encouraging, after I typed these words on my laptop on the long subway ride back into the heart of the city (and an afternoon visit to the Buddhist temple), I saw the same questions were being asked in a group chat within Shanghai Birding. Let us hope this conversation leads to action.

If you are ever in Shanghai, visit shanghaibirding.com before you get here. Study up on the local birds so you do not feel as frustrated as I did. If your visit is more spontaneous, like mine, don’t worry, even a last-minute trip is well worth your time. Take their advice and take a cab from Dishui Lake to the furthest microforest, then walk back towards the former Holiday Inn. And maybe, just maybe, you just might be lucky enough to meet a kind family like the Zhaos that will take you under their wing to show you a bird or two—or maybe twenty-two!
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Sikhote-Alin: A Place Unparalleled for Experiencing the Birds of East Asia

by Elena Govorova, Ph.D.
Senior Ornithologist, Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve
for shanghaibirding.com

Govorova
Govorova

For birdwatchers, the main reason to visit Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve is its rich collection of East Asian birds, among them Blakiston’s Fish Owl (above), Siberian Grouse, and Scaly-sided Merganser. In addition to being a world-class birding destination, Sikhote-Alin is a vast, pristine wilderness that is home to Amur (Siberian) Tiger. Birders who dream of experiencing East Asian birds in their historical habitats should visit Sikhote-Alin.

LOCATION & BASIC INFORMATION

Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve (45.293056, 136.678889) is in Ussuriland (Primorsky Krai) in the Russian Far East. The reserve is 760 km (470 mi.) east of Harbin, Heilongjiang and 2020 km (1,260 mi.) northeast of Shanghai. The reserve extends 90 km (56 mi.) inland from the Sea of Japan and covers an area of 401,600 hectares (1,551 sq. mi.).

Ninety-five percent of the reserve lies within the densely forested Sikhote-Alin Mountains, which in the reserve rise to an elevation of 1598 m (5,240 ft.). Rivers traverse the valleys, and along the coast are marshy lakes. Sikhote-Alin provides habitat for 389 species of bird, 60 species of mammal, 5 species of amphibian, 7 species of reptile, and 64 species of fish.

The reserve was established in 1935 to protect Sable Martes zibellina. Today, its most famous object of protection is Amur Tiger Panthera tigris altaica.

BIRDS OF THE RESERVE

Birds are present year-round at Sikhote-Alin. During breeding season you can see up to 50 species a day and at other times of the year more than 20.

Classic Eurasian spruce-fir forests cover the northwestern part of the reserve. Siberian Grouse Falcipennis falcipennis, endemic to the Russian Far East, is common here. Sikhote-Alin is one of the few places in the world where birders have a good chance of seeing Siberian Grouse.

Hooded Crane Grus monacha and Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata nest in marshes in the spruce-fir forests. Other spruce-fir species are Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Siberian Jay Perisoreus infaustus, Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus, Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki, and Coal Tit Periparus ater.

AN ABUNDANCE OF EAST ASIAN SPECIES

Coniferous-broadleaf forests make up a large part of the reserve. The variety of birds here is comparable to that of a tropical forest. Key East Asian birds abound. Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans and Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane nest on the ground. The undergrowth is occupied by Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps, Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans, and Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami. The trees are filled with Northern Boobook Ninox japonica, Japanese Scops Owl Otus semitorques, Oriental Scops Owl O. sunia, Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus, Siberian Thrush Zoothera sibirica, and White’s Thrush Z. aurea.

Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana serenades under the tree crowns, while in the crowns feed Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus and Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus. Nesting in these forests is a representative of the Asian subtropics: Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus. Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus and Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus also visit the coniferous-broadleaf forests. The rocky cliffs are inhabited by White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis and the glades and edges by Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala and Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi. Nesting along the rivers are Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes, and Chestnut-flanked White-eye Zosterops erythropleurus.

The wooded river banks are also the breeding grounds of two endangered East Asian birds: Blakiston’s Fish Owl Bubo blakistoni and Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus. You can find Blakiston’s in the winter on the non-freezing sections of the rivers, though views are not guaranteed. Birders visiting in July and August have a good chance of seeing Scaly-sided Merganser. During those months, birders commonly find females with their broods on the rivers. Also breeding on the rivers is Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata. Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus nests on the pebbly banks.

BIRDS OF COAST & SEA

Oak forests cover the seaside slopes and are inhabited by various woodpeckers: Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus canicapillus, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Y. kizuki, White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos, Great Spotted Woodpecker D. major, and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor. Also found here are Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla and Chestnut-cheeked Starling Agropsar philippensis. Thick-billed Warbler Arundinax aedon is found in the meadows near the oak forests. The bottomlands are inextricably linked with Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia, and Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus.

Along the coast, observers have noted Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus, White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi, Spectacled Guillemot Cepphus carbo, Japanese Cormorant Phalacrocorax capillatus, Pelagic Cormorant P. pelagicus, Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix, and Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus. Pacific Swift Apus pacificus, Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus, and Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius nest on the rocks by the water.

Around the seaside lakes as well as on the lower reaches of the rivers breeds Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii. Other species in these habitats are Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii, Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla and Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus. During migratory season, birders can note Oriental Stork Ciconia boyciana.

MIGRANTS & WINTERING BIRDS

The skies of the reserve are patrolled by Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus, Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, Eurasian Sparrowhawk A. nisus, Japanese Sparrowhawk A. gularis, and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.

Researchers have recorded forty species of waterfowl in the reserve, among them East Asian specialties Baikal Teal Sibirionetta formosa and Falcated Duck Mareca falcata as well as Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus and Tundra Swan C. columbianus bewickii. Twice a year, around 53 tundra-nesting species pass through the reserve.

Researchers in winter have recorded 97 species at Sikhote-Alin. Among them are Steller’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus, Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus, Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus, Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus, Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis, Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos, Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi, Asian Rosy Finch Leucosticte arctoa, and Pallas’s Rosefinch Carpodacus roseus.

CONTACT INFORMATION

To visit Sikhote-Alin, please apply by email. State the purpose and intended duration of your visit, the itineraries you wish to follow (see below), and the number of persons in your group.

Email: sikhote@inbox.ru
Address: 692150, Partizanskaya St., 44, Terney, Terney District, Primorsky Area, Russia
Web: www.sikhote-zap.ru
Phone: +7 (42374) 31-5-59

A representative of Sikhote-Alin will accompany you throughout your visit. Some staff members speak English.

TRANSPORTATION

There are daily flights from Vladivostok to Terney (45.048999, 136.620361), the village where the headquarters of the reserve is located. Usually going by plane to Terney is the fastest option (about 1.5 hours), but bad weather causes many flights to be canceled. Don’t make your schedule too tight, and have a backup plan.

If your flight is canceled, then you can wait a day and try to catch the next flight or take an uncomfortable 14-hour bus ride 670 km (416 mi.) from Vladivostok to Terney. You can also drive to Terney from Vladivostok (10 hours).

Terney has grocery stores, a hotel, post office, cafe, and clinic.

ITINERARIES

There are two main itineraries:

Blagodatnoye

Blagodatnoye is 18 km (11 mi.) south of Terney. It is the starting point for the Northern Cape, Lake Blagodatnoye, and Golubichnaya Bay trails. These are easy routes that birders can complete in a day. At Blagodatnoye you can observe the birds of the oak forests and meadows and waterfowl and shorebirds on the lake and the sea. There are two observation towers and a hide on Lake Blagodatnoye. Guests can stay in a cabin near the sea. Two- or four-bed rooms are available with kitchen (gas stove, refrigerator, and cookware) and banya (Russian sauna).

Arsenyev Trail

The Arsenyev Trail traces part of the expedition conducted in 1906 by the Russian explorer of the Far East, Vladimir Arsenyev. The trail leads from the eastern slopes through a pass in the Sikhote-Alin ridge to the western slopes, passing through the coniferous-broadleaf and spruce-fir forests. The route is for experienced walkers. It takes walkers six days to cover the 56 km (35 mi.) path. Birders may wish to take even more time. There is a hide near the Kaplanovsky Salt Licks. Spaced along the trail are five cabins with bunks and stoves. Users of the trail must carry their own sleeping bag and personal items. Food is transported to the cabin by employees of the reserve.

Please note that the managers sometimes prohibit entry to portions of the reserve. Note also that travelers to Sikhote-Alin, especially those who visit in May and June, should consider getting a vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis.

Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

WHEN TO VISIT

Experts say the best time to visit Sikhote-Alin is autumn (late August to mid-October). The monsoon rains have stopped, there are fewer ticks and blood-sucking insects, and the temperature of the air and water is still comfortable.

For birders, the best time to visit falls outside autumn. Migratory ducks and other waterfowl gather on Lake Blagodatnoye in April, when the weather can be cold and windy. The breeding season for most passerines is May through July, a time when midges and ticks are most bothersome. By August, when the weather and insect situation have begun to improve, the birds have already begun to depart.

For birders willing to accept the challenges, Sikhote-Alin offers an unusually rich environment in which to experience the birds of East Asia. Although no one can guarantee you tiger sightings, the birds definitely will be there!

MAP & PHOTOS

sikhote-alin-map
Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve is in Ussuriland in the Russian Far East. The reserve is 760 km (470 mi.) east of Harbin, Heilongjiang and 2020 km (1,260 mi.) northeast of Shanghai. (Google Maps)
Sikhote-Alinsky Zapovednik
Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve stretches from the Sea of Japan inland to the Sikhote-Alin Mountains. With an area of 4016 sq. km (1,551 sq. mi.), the reserve is larger than the state of Rhode Island in the United States. Coastal sites near Terney, such as Lake Blagodatnoye, are readily accessible, while the mountainous interior is harder to reach, for logistical as well as administrative reasons. Sikhote-Alin is a zapovednik—a word meaning wilderness area or nature sanctuary, but in many cases denoting the protection of cultural or biological riches (in this case, Amur Tiger) and not just the land itself. As a zapovednik, the reserve enjoys the highest level of protection afforded by the Russian state. (Sikhote-Alinsky Zapovednik/Craig Brelsford)
Siberian Grouse
For birders, the attraction of Sikhote-Alin is its East Asian birds, in particular its rarities. One of the best-known is Siberian Grouse Falcipennis falcipennis, a resident of the vast, nearly untouched spruce-fir forests of the reserve. This is the male. (Konstantin Maslovsky)
Siberian Grouse
Siberian Grouse (female, above) is closely related to North America’s Spruce Grouse Falcipennis canadensis. Endemic to the Russian Far East, Siberian Grouse once occurred in the Lesser Khingan Mountains of Heilongjiang but has likely been extirpated from China. Its numbers are stable at Sikhote-Alin. (Peter Mametyev)
merganser
Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus, male. An endangered species, Scaly-sided Merganser breeds on clear-flowing rivers lined with tall trees, which it uses for nest-holes. Sikhote-Alin is among the most important areas within the merganser’s breeding range. (Valery Shokhrin)
merganser
Scaly-sided Merganser, female. In July and August, birders find female Scaly-sided Merganser and their broods in the rivers of Sikhote-Alin. (Valery Shokhrin)
owl
Japanese Scops Owl Otus semitorques ussuriensis (above) and Oriental Scops Owl O. sunia are summer visitors to the forests of Sikhote-Alin. (Valery Shokhrin)
sikhote-forest-birds
Birds of the forests of Sikhote-Alin. Clockwise from top: Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata, Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus. During breeding season, Sikhote-Alin resounds with birdsong. On a good day out, birders can note up to 50 species. (Elena Govorova)
Blagodatnoye
In April, after the melting of the ice on Lake Blagodatnoye (44.934793, 136.537586), migrating ducks begin to appear, forming flocks numbering in the thousands. Among the most numerous are Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope and Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator. Present in smaller numbers are East Asian specialties Falcated Duck Mareca falcata and Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata. Numerous species of shorebird also use the lake, and Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii breeds in the surrounding meadows. (Elena Govorova)
Blagodatnoye
One of the more accessible areas of the reserve, Lake Blagodatnoye has two observation towers and a hide. A day’s walk in the area gives birders views of shorebirds on the coast, waterfowl on the lake, and passerines in the oak forests and meadows. (Evgeny Tabalykin)
Golubichnoye
Bay on Sea of Japan (L) and Lake Golubichnoye (44.915594, 136.525149). Around the lake, birders find Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii and Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata. The sandy shore of the bay attracts migrating peeps such as Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta and Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus. (Evgeny Tabalykin)
yasnaya
At Sikhote-Alin, the mixed coniferous-broadleaf forest, as seen here in the Yasnaya Valley (45.114277, 135.866303), is a showcase of East Asian birds. Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans breeds in dense undergrowth along the streams, and Siberian Thrush Zoothera sibirica sings its fluty song from the treetops. At dawn White’s Thrush Z. aurea whistles mournfully. (Evgeny Tabalykin)
Columbe
Spruce-fir forest covers the Columbe Valley in the northwestern sector of the reserve. Siberian Grouse occurs here along with summer breeders Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus and Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki. (Evgeny Tabalykin)
coast
In the oak forests on the slopes above the Sea of Japan live Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus kizuki. In the sea below, birders in winter can find Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus and Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus. (Evgeny Tabalykin)
Zabolochennaya
October, Zabolochennaya Valley (45.236287, 136.509562). Though not prime birding season, autumn offers fall color, brisk weather, and a respite from ticks and blood-sucking insects. (Evgeny Tabalykin)
Zabolochennaya
Zabolochennaya Valley in the snow. At Sikhote-Alin in winter, researchers have recorded 97 species, among them Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus, Asian Rosy Finch Leucosticte arctoa, and Pallas’s Rosefinch Carpodacus roseus. (Evgeny Tabalykin)

EDITOR’S NOTE

This post is part of a series on birding in Manchuria and the Russian Far East. For a comparison of the birds of Sikhote-Alin with those of Xidaquan National Forest, 500 km (310 mi.) to the west in Heilongjiang, China, see the following report:

Boli, Heilongjiang at the Height of Breeding Season

See also:

Birding Northern Inner Mongolia and Eastern Heilongjiang

Birding Northeast China in April & May

Featured image: Blakiston’s Fish Owl Bubo blakistoni requires dense, old-growth forest near lakes and rivers that do not freeze in winter. Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve preserves in abundance this type of habitat, and for this reason it is a stronghold for the endangered owl. (Peter Mametyev)
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Book Review: Birds of Japan & Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Shanghai birders should consider buying Birds of Japan and Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas. I served as proofreader of both books, published by Helm Field Guides. Keep Japan on your bookshelf or in your car as you bird the coast of China, and use Bhutan as your first reference in western Yunnan.

Authored by Mark Brazil, Birds of Japan follows Brazil’s 2009 opus, Birds of East Asia, the best field guide for the coastal provinces of China. Birds of Japan sees Brazil returning to his first love, Japan, where Brazil has been active since the 1980s.

Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas, by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp, and Sherub, covers not just Bhutan but also the neighboring Indian states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. All border Tibet, and Arunachal Pradesh extends east to a point only 80 km (50 mi.) from the Dulong Gorge in Yunnan.

Japan and Bhutan each come with introductions to their regions, richly illustrated with maps and photographs. With its detailed “Where to Bird” section, Grimmett et al.’s 38-page opener is as thorough an introduction as a birder is likely to find to the eastern Himalayas. Brazil’s is less extensive but still does justice to a biogeographically complex archipelago that stretches 3000 km (1,900 mi.) from subarctic Hokkaido to the subtropical Ryukyus.

Japan and Bhutan repurpose much artwork from earlier Helm works, Japan drawing from Birds of East Asia and Bhutan from Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. There is, however, much that is new. In Japan no less than 18 new illustrations of White Wagtail are offered, 12 covering the three ssp. (leucopsis, ocularis, lugens) most common on the Chinese coast. Illustrations better than those in Birds of East Asia are provided for Chinese Egret and several species of duck.

Published nearly a decade after East Asia, Japan incorporates many of the ornithological advances made since 2009. For example, in East Asia Brazil incorrectly writes that the calls of Pale-legged and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler are indistinguishable, and the illustrations suggest that the morphological differences between the two species are appreciable. In Japan, Brazil describes the higher-pitched call of Pale-legged, and the new paintings convey more accurately the near indistinguishability of the species on plumage and bare parts.

To a China-based birder, Birds of Japan offers regional interest and usefulness in the coastal provinces, where it can serve as a backup and partial update to Birds of East Asia. Japan also provides a foretaste of a second edition of East Asia. “The publisher has expressed strong interest in a new edition,” Brazil wrote, “and I have the artist already lined up. I am just awaiting a contract” (in litt., 2019).

Bloomsbury touts Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas as “the one guide you’ll need on a visit to this incredible corner of Asia.” Including the neighboring Indian states along with Bhutan was an inspired decision, broadening the scope of the book without diminishing its coherence and increasing its usefulness in the Himalayan regions of China. For birders in the Dulong Gorge and at Baihualing, Ruili, and other hotspots in western Yunnan’s Gaoligong Mountains, Bhutan can replace Craig Robson’s Birds of Southeast Asia. Bhutan has better species descriptions than Robson’s sometimes cryptically concise work, and its illustrations excel those in Robson.

Birders in other parts of China will find Bhutan useful. In Himalayan south Tibet, in particular Yadong, wedged between Sikkim and Bhutan, birders will do just fine with Bhutan and only Bhutan in their backpack. Bhutan will prove useful in regions east of Himalayan China, notably Sichuan, as well as on the Tibetan Plateau. In southern Yunnan (Xishuangbanna), whose avifauna is more Southeast Asian than Himalayan, Bhutan can back up Robson.

Like Birds of Japan, Bhutan includes recent ornithological breakthroughs, among them Himalayan Thrush, a species described in 2016 by Alström et al., and Bugun Liocichla, discovered in 2006 in Arunachal Pradesh. Other Himalayan specialties sought after by China-based birders, such as Sclater’s Monal, Fire-tailed Myzornis, and Beautiful Nuthatch, receive ample coverage in the species accounts and introduction of Bhutan.

China sorely lacks good bird books. On the Helm Field Guides bookshelf, there are gaps where works such as Birds of Sichuan and Yunnan and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau should be. Birders in China have long had to cobble together field-guide strategies, using as a major component field guides covering regions of Asia bordering China. One welcome development has been the increasing quality of those guides. Nowhere are the improvements more evident than in Birds of Japan and Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas.

Do you own either of the books discussed in this article? Add your review in the comments below.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark. (2019). Email to author, 9 August.

Featured image: Covers of Birds of Japan (2018) and Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas (2019), published by Helm Field Guides/Bloomsbury. (Craig Brelsford)
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Wanted: Your Sound Recordings of Leaf Warblers

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Per Alström, Trevor Price, and Pratap Singh are studying song evolution in the leaf warbler family (Phylloscopidae). To understand how different song traits have evolved, the scientists plan to analyze vocalizations of all the species of leaf warbler and map their song parameters and calls on their molecular phylogeny.

The team is analyzing whole songs of all the species for size of song repertoire and singing variety. They need long song recordings, particularly for species having large repertoires.

For each species, Alström, Price, and Singh need 10 long recordings. They lack material for the following species:

Sulphur-bellied Warbler Phylloscopus griseolus
Ijima’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus ijimae
Kolombangara Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus amoenus
Smoky Warbler Phylloscopus fuligiventer
Black-capped Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus herberti
Red-faced Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus laetus
Laura’s Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus laurae
Makira Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus makirensis
Plain Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus neglectus
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis
Timor Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus presbytes
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus
Sulawesi Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus sarasinorum
Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus (collybita) tristis
Yellow-breasted Warbler Phylloscopus montis
Brooks’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus subviridis
Hainan Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus hainanus
Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus

Can you share your recordings of the species above?

Alström et al. prefer uncompressed WAV files but will accept mp3’s. Please make clear the species in your recording. Your contribution will be acknowledged in the publication the team is preparing.

Attach your sound-recordings to an email and send it to Alström, Price, and Singh:

Per Alström
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Per.Alstrom@slu.se

Trevor Price
Department of Ecology and Evolution
University of Chicago, USA
pricet@uchicago.edu

Pratap Singh
Wildlife Institute of India
Dehradun, India
pratapsingh6019@gmail.com

Featured image: An international team of scientists is calling on birders to provide sound-recordings of leaf warblers. Pictured here are five of the species for which recordings are needed. Clockwise from top L: Sulphur-bellied Warbler Phylloscopus griseolus, Alpine Leaf Warbler P. occisinensis, Smoky Warbler P. fuligiventer weigoldi, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler P. proregulus, and Hainan Leaf Warbler P. hainanus. (Craig Brelsford)
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Jon Hornbuckle, Tough As Nails

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Jon Hornbuckle saw 9,600 species of bird, more than anyone, ever. He was tough as nails. We were at Tangjiahe, Sichuan in May 2013. Our original five-man group was one short, but the park still wanted 10,000 yuan. Jon insisted on a prorated price of 8,000. The rep said no, and Jon said, “Tell her we’re leaving.” The rep gave in. Later, at the parking lot at the base of the mountain, the rep cheerfully announced that her boss had prepared a luncheon for us in a banquet hall nearby. “We’re not tourists,” Jon said.

We marched up the mountain, topping out at 2640 m (8,660 ft.). Jon matched us step for step. That night in the cabin, we were awakened by the hooting of Himalayan Owl Strix nivicolum. We searched with a flashlight but never saw the owl. Jon wouldn’t tick it; he had to see his birds. The next day, as I drove the team to Wolong, Jon said I was accelerating unnecessarily, and would I please stop wasting petrol?

At first, Jon’s intensity was intimidating; I had never met anyone so relentless in his pursuit of birds. As I got to know Jon, I discovered a softer side to the great lister. The world was his patch, and he explored it with the enthusiasm of a boy exploring the woods. To Jon, finding a new bird was like making a new friend.

In Xi’an I picked up Jon and his partners Dave Woodford and Phil Heath, the latter two world-class birders like Jon. We zoomed through Shaanxi and Sichuan on an itinerary that would have exhausted a much younger man. In the Qinling we ticked Blackthroat Calliope obscura, in Shaanxi we scored Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon, at Tangjiahe we found Przevalski’s Parrotbill Sinosuthora przewalskii, at Wolong we saw Wood Snipe Gallinago nemoricola, at Longcanggou we thrilled to Golden-fronted Fulvetta Alcippe variegaticeps, and at Xiningzhen we eked out Silver Oriole Oriolus mellianus.

After the trip, Jon and I maintained a friendly correspondence. He was among the first subscribers to shanghaibirding.com. On 6 July 2017, vacationing in the south of France, Jon was badly injured in a car accident. The accident damaged his memory, and he never recovered. Jon passed away on 19 Feb. 2018, age 74. He was a great birder, and he deserves to be remembered.

Did you know Jon? Tell your story by commenting below.

PHOTOS

Hornbuckle
Jon Hornbuckle photographing Grandala Grandala coelicolor, Balangshan, Sichuan, 22 May 2013. This photo shows Jon’s characteristic intensity. Even though we had just arrived at an elevation of 4480 m (14,690 ft.) and had not yet grown accustomed to the altitude, Jon saw the Grandala and bore down. (Craig Brelsford)
Hornbuckle with group
Jon (C) stands with members of the team at Foping, Shaanxi after ticking Blackthroat. I’m the man with the black cap. I could hardly believe my good luck to be serving as interpreter and driver for the world’s champion lister. Blackthroat was our first of many triumphs on a whirlwind 14-day expedition that saw us range from Xi’an to Yibin in southern Sichuan. Throughout the trip, I observed Jon closely, discovering a man whose toughness was matched only by his tender love for birds. The men to Jon’s right are (L-R) Dave Woodford and Phil Heath. Our guide at Foping, Mr. Gong, stands at Jon’s left. (Craig Brelsford)
Hornbuckle
Clockwise from top L: Jon (L) and Dave Woodford at Balangshan, Jon searching for Przevalski’s Parrotbill, and our team with the park staff at Tangjiahe. (Craig Brelsford)
Hornbuckle's birds
A master trip planner, Jon along with his partners devised an itinerary that netted us some of China’s most coveted birds. Top row: Golden-fronted Fulvetta Alcippe variegaticeps. Row 2, L-R: Blackthroat Calliope obscura, Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon. Row 3: Grey-hooded Parrotbill Sinosuthora zappeyi, Przevalski’s Parrotbill S. przewalskii. Row 4: Silver Oriole Oriolus mellianus, Wood Snipe Gallinago nemoricola. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: No human being has seen more species of bird than Jon Hornbuckle, shown here at Balangshan, Sichuan in May 2013. (Craig Brelsford)
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