Qinghai, June-August 2016: Part 5

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

INTRODUCTION TO PART 5

Part 5 covers our eighth and final week birding in Qinghai. The featured image above shows dunes and mountain in the remote back country of Wulan County, where I spent most of Week 8.

THE FINAL WEEK

Lake Xiligou
Stunning sunset over Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)

The eighth week lasted from from Sun. 14 Aug. to Sun. 21 Aug. 2016. Elaine and I spent most of Week 8 in Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Amid stunning scenery, we found Tibetan Wolf, discovered a new location for Przevalski’s Partridge, and around Lake Xiligou had a rare eastern record of Water Rail as well as Qinghai favorites Black-necked Crane, Tibetan Lark, and Henderson’s Ground Jay. The lake held Black-necked Grebe and a noisy super-flock of 4610 Ruddy Shelduck, and Mongolian Goitered Gazelle were in the hills behind. Near Chaka we had Mute Swan, and at a site south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia we noted Dusky Warbler, the 195th and final species of our two-month trip.

WORKING ‘VACATION’ IN WULAN

Wulan
The view from our room at the hotel in Wulan Xiancheng. A new public square adds life to the town. The elevation here is 2950 m (9,680 ft.). The weather in August is warm and dry, a welcome contrast to the cold we had endured the previous week at Hala Lake. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine and I had spent 15 straight nights in our tent when in the afternoon of Sun. 14 Aug. we pulled into Wūlán Xiàn Hóngxiáng Jiǔdiàn (乌兰县鸿翔酒店, +86 (0) 977-8245666, 36.927295, 98.479888). This comfortable hotel in Wulan Xiancheng would shelter us for the next three nights. We did no more birding on the 14th. The next day, the 15th, a group of Elaine’s former co-workers who happened to be vacationing in the area stopped by our hotel for a big lunch. As in Xining in July, our vacation-within-a-vacation gave us the breather we needed.

Our explorations resumed on Tues. 16 Aug. In the morning, we reconnoitered the north side of Lake Xiligou (36.838594, 98.462896), the little-birded saline lake south of Wulan. The elevation around Lake Xiligou is 2950 m (9,680 ft.), more than 1100 meters (3,610 ft.) lower than chilly Hala Lake, where we had spent the previous week.

marshy area
This is the productive marshy area near Wulan Xiancheng at 36.899263, 98.494709. From these reeds we heard the squeals of Water Rail, and nearby we found Tibetan Lark. (Craig Brelsford)

At a productive marshy area (36.899263, 98.494709) we heard Water Rail calling from the reeds, picked up trip-first Richard’s Pipit, and welcomed back Tibetan Lark to our Qinghai list. The scrub nearby yielded a single Henderson’s Ground Jay.

Despite those successes, approaching Lake Xiligou from the north was not optimal, because the lake is shrinking, and the shrinkage is most pronounced on the north shore. The more remote south shore, by contrast, which we visited in the afternoon, was a revelation.

Mongolian Goitered Gazelle
Mongolian Goitered Gazelle, Lake Xiligou (36.838594, 98.462896), 16 Aug. Goitered Gazelle ranges from the Arabian Peninsula to China. The IUCN lists it as Vulnerable, mainly because of poaching and habitat loss. The latter problem is glaringly acute in Qinghai, where numbers of domestic livestock continue to increase, straining the land and pushing the wild ungulates out. (Craig Brelsford)

The show started while we were still in the semi-desert. We found a black-tailed gazelle that did not bound away like a Tibetan Gazelle, but galloped. It was Mongolian Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana. We found 12.

As we approached the south shore, we heard a roar coming from the water. The source was Ruddy Shelduck, of which we counted 4610. Next in numbers was Brown-headed Gull (625), Black-necked Grebe (275), and Black-winged Stilt (210). 4 bugling Black-necked Crane made up with charisma and grace what they lacked in numbers. Lake Xiligou also yielded a single Greylag Goose, 7 Common Shelduck, 20 Northern Shoveler, 4 Common Pochard, 1 Great Crested Grebe, and 35 Pied Avocet.

Elaine Du
Elaine Du walks through a sea of grass near the south shore of Lake Xiligou (36.838594, 98.462896). In the distance Wulan Xiancheng can be seen. (Craig Brelsford)

Driving out in the dark, we found 3 jerboa, two of them long-eared and presumably either Gobi Jerboa or Mongolian Five-Toed Jerboa, and the third short-eared and long-tailed and presumably Northern Three-toed Jerboa. What fun it is to watch these “jumping mice” (跳鼠) hop across the chaparral.

THE BACK COUNTRY OF WULAN COUNTY

Rusty-necklaced Partridge
We found this Przevalski’s Partridge at a spot (36.826334, 97.965649) 66 km (41 mi.) southwest of Wulan. Endemic to China, Alectoris magna has a compact range that extends from northeastern Qinghai to central Gansu. It is similar to Chukar Partridge A. chukar and is distinguished from it by the chestnut line on the neck. This line gives rise to its other English name, ‘Rusty-necklaced Partridge.’ (Craig Brelsford)

On Wed. 17 Aug. Elaine and I were back on the road, exploring the area south of Wulan and north of Dulan (36.299080, 98.091569). Here Elaine and I found some of the best scenery and most remote country of the Qinghai trip. We drove for hours, not passing a single car. We saw more Przevalski’s Partridge than people, the result of our finding a new site (36.826334, 97.965649) for the species 66 km (41 mi.) southwest of Wulan. The covey contained 13 birds. The site, at elev. 3380 m (11,090 ft.) and with well-vegetated hillsides and steep cliffs for roosting nearby, meets the basic demands of the species and may hold the partridges throughout the year.

Asian Short-toed Lark
Asian Short-toed Lark in semi-desert near Jinzi Lake (36.719109, 97.886371). The four panels show a single individual, a juvenile. Note the stubby bill, the noticeable extension of the primaries beyond the short tertials (Panel 2), and the streaked breast (4). Hume’s Short-toed Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark show tertials overlapping the primary tips, and neither has streaking across the breast. (Craig Brelsford)

On Thurs. 18 Aug., on the way to Jinzi Lake (36.719109, 97.886371), we found a group of Mongolian Goitered Gazelle sprinting across the road. I once again noted the power and speed of these animals. Jinzi Lake is a spring-fed freshwater pond, elev. 2990 m (9,810 ft.). Here we found adult and juvenile Black-necked Grebe and Great Crested Grebe. At the lake we added to our Qinghai 2016 list Eurasian Coot, and later in the desert Tarim Babbler joined the list. We studied carefully the short-toed larks in the marshy areas near the lake. All were Asian Short-toed Lark.

dune
Dunes near our newly discovered Przevalski’s Partridge site (36.826334, 97.965649) in Wulan County, 17 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)

I drove into a sand dune and got stuck. With our handy shovel I dug the car out. I learned two lessons from the incident. First, sand is treacherous; never approach it flippantly. Second, always have tools in your car, especially in remote places. Without that shovel, I would not have been able to dig the car out. I would have been at the mercy of some local—assuming we had found someone. Because we had the shovel, we were able to continue birding after a short delay.

Desert Whitethroat
Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula margelanica near Jinzi Lake. (Craig Brelsford)

On the morning of Fri. 19 Aug. we found a watering hole in the desert near Jinzi Lake. The pool attracted Desert Whitethroat, a lone Temminck’s Stint, Tarim Babbler, several Isabelline Wheatear, and a Citrine Wagtail.

RESCUING REDSTARTS

Dunes and mountain
Dunes and mountain near Chacha Cun (36.674281, 98.133550). (Craig Brelsford)

On the afternoon of Fri. 19 Aug. Elaine and I were driving through Lianhe Cun (36.622738, 98.233933). We did a double-take. Someone had hung bird netting along the main road, in plain view. The nets were apparently some ill-advised attempt to protect the local crop of wolfberry growing in the gardens behind. Wolfberry or gǒuqǐ (枸杞) is an edible fruit grown in irrigated cropland in Haixi Prefecture.

The scheme was not only callous but also futile, as nearly all the birds could see the netting and were flying over it into the gardens. The only result the netting was having was to kill a few of the birds—and demonstrate the ignorance of the net-setters.

I saw two Black Redstart enmeshed in the netting. They were alive and struggling. In full view of the farmers, who were selling their wolfberry just yards away, I pulled out my knife and cut the redstarts out.

It was quite a job. The netting catches onto any irregular surface—claws, toes, wings, bill. And the redstarts are fragile. If I squeezed the frightened bird even a little too much, it would die in my hand. As I handled one of the beauties, a sleek adult male, the redstart pecked weakly at my fingers.

I set the redstarts free and drove off. I looked at the hard-bitten farmers, their faces wrinkled like raisins after years toiling in the desert sun. I told Elaine: “Poor folks can be materialistic, too—all that cruelty for a measly couple of yuan.”

TIBETAN WOLF

Dulan Mountains
View looking north at Przevalski’s Site in the Dulan Mountains. The point here is 36.460567, 98.503088. The base of Partridge Hill, where Przevalski’s Partridge often gather, is visible to the left of the gully. The wolves were found on the farthest ridge back. Przevalski’s Redstart have been found on the conifer-spotted sunlit hillside in the mid-ground. Pine Bunting often sing from the base of Przevalski’s Hill and in the grass in the foreground. (Craig Brelsford)

Later on Fri. 19 Aug. we found 3 Tibetan Wolf at the well-known Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578). With our trip winding down, and steadily making our way east toward Xining and the airport, Elaine and I passed by the Przevalski’s Site and decided to make a lunch stop there. We drove off the G109 and motored through the arid grassland to the base of Partridge Hill, where Przevalski’s Partridge are often found.

After lunch, I said to Elaine, “I’m going to read that slope like a book.” I was talking about the slope that rises about 700 m (2,300 ft.) from the valley floor where we were parked and is about 1500 air-meters away. During our visit in July with Jan-Erik Nilsén, I studied the slope and found Blue Sheep clinging to the nearly vertical wall.

I pulled out my Swarovski ATX-95 and mounted it atop my Manfrotto head. To reduce the effect of the wind, I was seated with the legs of the tripod unextended. As is my habit, I scanned the ridges first.

I found 3 Tibetan Wolf on the ridge. Canus lupus filchneri is a small ssp., and at first I mistook the wolves for foxes. They had black-tipped tails, ocher fur on the back and outer legs, an off-white band on the upper back, and a white muzzle and throat. They moved with ease across the slope.

Battling heat haze, I struggled to keep up with the wolves. I held on for 5 to 10 minutes, during which time I noted their efficient gait, saw them investigating every nook and cranny in their path, and watched them sure-footedly clamber up steep rocks. Elaine took a peek, her first look ever at a wolf.

The wolves disappeared, and strangely enough about 30 minutes later a flock of 40 Blue Sheep, including several lambs, moved into the area. We waited for the wolves to attack, but no attack came.

A major birding location in Dulan County, the Przevalski’s Site is so named because it is reliable for Przevalski’s Partridge and Przevalski’s Redstart. On 19 Aug. the site delivered a covey of 18 partridges, emerging as if on cue from the base of Partridge Hill for a late-afternoon feed. No Przevalski’s Redstart were found, the wheeze of Pine Bunting was no longer heard, and even that little fighter Alpine Leaf Warbler was subdued.

As I stood there watching the now-skulky Alpine Leaf Warbler, so feisty when we arrived in Qinghai in June, it occurred to me that Elaine and I had spent virtually the entire summer in Qinghai.

We continued east, to Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878). At a spot (36.787688, 98.987532) for Henderson’s Ground Jay west of town, now flooded after much recent rain, we added our 194th species of bird for Qinghai 2016: Mute Swan.

THE END

On Sat. 20 Aug. Elaine and I drove from Chaka to a point (36.206372, 100.534206) south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia. There we spent our final night. The next morning, in the scrub near our camp I found Crested Lark and Dusky Warbler, the latter the 195th and final species of the trip.

We drove to Xining Caojiabao Airport, returned the Sportage, and flew back to Shanghai.

PHOTOS

elaine and friends
Elaine Du (L) with friends from Beijing at Wulan, 15 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)
Dusk, Lake Xiligou
Dusk at Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)
Goitered Gazelle
Goitered Gazelle near Lake Xiligou. (Craig Brelsford)
Woolly Hare
When approached by this photographer, this Woolly Hare decided to sit tight. From a survival perspective, the strategy paid off. (Craig Brelsford)
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear are abundant in the semi-deserts of Wulan County. We counted 58 on 18 Aug. and 110 on 19 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)
Isabelline Wheatear
I photographed Isabelline Wheatear from a distance, with mountains, sand dunes, and scrub visible in the background. F/14, 1/400, ISO 1600. (Craig Brelsford)
Wheatear
F/16, 1/320, ISO 800. (Craig Brelsford)
wheatear
F/16, 1/250, ISO 1600. (Craig Brelsford)

INDEX

“Qinghai, June-August 2016” contains an introduction and six parts. This is Part 5.

Introduction: A Summer in Qinghai
Part 1: Weeks 1 & 2
Part 2: Weeks 3 & 4
Part 3: Weeks 5 & 6
Part 4: Week 7
Part 5: Week 8
Part 6: Facts & Figures

This report is part of shanghaibirding.com’s extensive coverage of Qinghai. For the complete index to our posts on Qinghai, please see our page Birding in Qinghai. A list of our most prominent reports on Qinghai is below.

Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Exploring mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), our team found 98 species of bird and many key mammals, among them Tibetan Wolf.

Tibetan Bunting Leads Parade of Tibetan Plateau Endemics in Qinghai: shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford led a three-person team on a 23-day trip to Qinghai.

Qinghai in October: Jesper Hornskov and his team noted 178 species of bird in October, a time of year, Hornskov writes, “when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land.”

In addition to coverage of Qinghai and our core area of Shanghai, shanghaibirding.com has extensive coverage of other areas of China, among them

Yunnan
Xinjiang
Sichuan
Northeast China
Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

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Qinghai, June-August 2016: Facts & Figures

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

INTRODUCTION TO PART 6

Part 6 contains our list of the major places our team visited and a bibliography.

One of our most memorable ticks during our summer in Qinghai was Tibetan Sandgrouse (above), found at Hala Lake (38.205028, 97.520028) on 10 Aug. 2016.

LIST OF PLACE NAMES

— Many places in Qinghai have Tibetan or Mongolian names. For simplicity I have written place names only in English, simplified Chinese, and Pinyin.

— In the system used here, in English all eight jurisdictions in Qinghai immediately below the provincial level are called “prefectures” (州), even though in two cases (Haidong and Xining) the word 市 (“city”) is used to designate the administrative area. Likewise, all jurisdictions immediately below the prefectural level are called “counties” (县), even though in some cases 市 is used to designate those administrative areas.

Alake Lake: see Lake Alake.

Babao River (Bābǎo Hé [八宝河]): tributary of Heihe River. Confluence at Qinghai-Gansu border in Qilian County.

Babao Zhen (Bābǎo Zhèn [八宝镇]): see Qilian Xiancheng.

Baizha Nature Reserve (Báizhā Sēnlín Zìrán Bǎohùqū [白扎森林自然保护区]): protected area Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture. Junction of G214 & X832 at 31.966314, 96.535097. On some maps, X832 is called “Ranniang Section” (Ránniáng Duàn [然娘段]). This is the road that leads toward the nature reserve. At another turnoff (31.964250, 96.573340), bear right, leaving Ranniang Section, & continue on to the reserve. Gate at 31.882305, 96.556738. Elev. at gate is 3910 m (12,840 ft.).

Banjie Gou (Bànjié Gōu [半截沟]): village Menyuan County, Haibei Prefecture. 37.681962, 101.240959.

Bayankala Pass (Bāyánkālā Shānkǒu [巴颜喀拉山口]): pass on G214 near Qinghai-Sichuan border. Elev.: 4824 m (15,823 ft.). 34.114476, 97.661992.

Chacha Cun (Cháchá Cūn [查查村]): village Dulan County. 36.674281, 98.133550.

Chaka (Chákǎ Zhèn [茶卡镇]): town & tourist center Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 36.791576, 99.078878.

Chaka Salt Lake (Chákǎ Yánhú [茶卡盐湖]). 36.702074, 99.112364.

Chenduo County (Chènduō Xiàn [称多县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Yushu Prefecture.

Chengdong District (Chéngdōng Qū [城东区]): district Xining Prefecture. Along with other nearby urbanized districts, commonly referred to as Xining. See also Chengxi District, Chengzhong District.

Chengxi District (Chéngxī Qū [城西区]): district Xining Prefecture. Along with other nearby urbanized districts, commonly refereed to as Xining. See also Chengdong District, Chengzhong District.

Chengzhong District (Chéngzhōng Qū [城中区]): district Xining Prefecture & heart of Xining conurbation. This district & three adjacent districts are commonly referred to as Xining. See also Chengdong District, Chengxi District.

Dagela Pass (Dàgélā Shān [大格拉山]): ridge dividing Yangtze & Mekong river systems in Yushu Prefecture. Reachable via X308. Elev.: 4752 m (15,587 ft.). 32.514573, 97.209993.

Dashui Qiao (Dàshuǐ Qiáo [大水桥]): village Gonghe County between Chaka & Heimahe. 36.691347, 99.457542.

Dashui Reservoir (Dàshuǐ Shuǐkù [大水水库]): dam & artificial lake near Dashui Qiao. 36.716292, 99.471655.

Datong River (Dàtōng Hé [大通河]): river N Qinghai & W Gansu. Tributary of Huangshui River. Part of Yellow River system.

Delingha County (Délìnghā Shì [德令哈市]) sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture. Prefectural seat of Haixi Prefecture. Officially, Delingha “City.”

Dipanzi Village (Dìpánzi Cūn [地盘子村]): settlement Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture. Riparian forest of Small-leaf Poplar is across Heihe River at 38.212130, 100.160214.

Donggeicuona Lake: see Lake Donggeicuona.

Dongguan Mosque (Xīníng Shì Dōngguān Qīngzhēn Dàsì [西宁市东关清真大寺]): largest mosque in Qinghai. Built 1380. Located in Chengdong District, Xining. 36.615301, 101.797987.

Dulan County (Dūlán Xiàn [都兰县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture.

Dunhuang (Dūnhuáng Shì [敦煌市]): sub-prefectural administrative area W Gansu.

Ela Pass (Èlā Shānkǒu [鄂拉山口]): elev. 4499 m (14,757 ft.). 35.497608, 99.511449.

Eling Lake (Èlíng Hú [鄂陵湖]). One of the sources of Yellow River, in Maduo County, Guoluo Prefecture. Also known as Ngoring Lake. 34.902685, 97.709949.

Ga’er Monastery (Gǎěr Sì [尕尔寺]): Buddhist institution of worship in Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture. 31.829966, 96.487758.

Gahai Lake (Gǎ Hǎi [尕海]): freshwater lake Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture. Elev.: 2850 m (9,350 ft.). 37.128349, 97.551656.

Galaga Pass (Gǎlāgǎ Yākǒu [尕拉尕垭口]): Elev.: 4493 m (14,737 ft.).

Gangze Wujie (Gǎngzé Wújié [岗则吾结]): peak South Shule Mountains, Tianjun County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. At 5808 masl (19,050 ft.) highest peak in South Shule Mountains & Qilian Mountains. On some maps called Tuanjie Feng (Tuánjié Fēng [团结峰]). 38.503719, 97.718419.

Gansu (Gānsù Shěng [甘肃省]): province NW China bordering Qinghai to N & E. Area: 425,800 sq. km (164,400 sq. mi.).

Gonghe: word that can be used for Gonghe County & especially for Qiabuqia.

Gonghe County (Gònghé Xiàn [共和县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Hainan Prefecture.

Gouhua (Gōuhuā [沟花]): valley ca. 30 km W of Huashixia in Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Elev.: 3990 m (13,090 ft.).

Guoluo Prefecture (Guǒluò Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [果洛藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area SE Qinghai. Area: 76,312 sq. km (29,464 sq. mi.). Full name: Guoluo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Guoluo sometimes spelled “Golog.”

Greater Wild Horse Ridge (Dà Yěmǎ Lǐng [大野马岭]): mtn. Maduo County. Elev.: 4326 m (14,189 ft.). 34.658282, 98.228252.

Gyêgu: see Jiegu.

Haibei Prefecture (Hǎiběi Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海北藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai. Area: 39,354 sq. km (15,195 sq. mi.). Full name: Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Haidong Prefecture (Hǎidōng Shì [海东市]): sub-provincial administrative area E Qinghai. Area: 12,810 sq. km (4,950 sq. mi.). Officially a “(prefectural-level) city.”

Hainan Prefecture (Hǎinán Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [海南藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area E Qinghai. Area: 45,895 sq. km (17,720 sq. mi.). Full name: Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Haixi Prefecture (Hǎixī Měnggǔzú Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海西蒙古族藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area occupying all of NW & NC Qinghai & a portion of SW Qinghai. Area: 325,785 sq. km (125,786 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): slightly smaller than Norway; slightly larger than New Mexico. Largest prefecture in Qinghai. Pop.: 490,000. Prefectural seat: Delingha. Full name: Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Hala Lake (Hālā Hú [哈拉湖]): inland sea N Qinghai in Haixi Prefecture. Second-largest lake in Qinghai. Area: 607 sq. km (234 sq. mi.). Elevation: 4077 m (13,373 ft.). 38.267875, 97.575430.

Hedong (Hédōng [河东]): administrative area Delingha County. Seat of Haixi Prefecture & Delingha County. Along with Hexi forms urbanized area of Delingha County, & the two areas are most commonly referred to as “Delingha.”

Heihe River (Hēi Hé [黑河]): river NW China rising on N side of Qilian Mountains in Gansu, flowing through Haibei Prefecture in Qinghai, & returning to Gansu, where it runs through Hexi Corridor before drying up in Gobi Desert in W Inner Mongolia. Length: 630 km (391 mi.). Lower reaches known as Ruo Shui (Ruò Shuǐ [弱水]).

Heihe Xiang (Hēihé Xiāng [黑河乡]): village Maduo County. 34.600899, 98.268220.

Heimahe (Hēimǎhé Xiāng [黑马河乡]): village SW shore of Qinghai Lake in Gonghe County. Tourism center. 36.729239, 99.779524.

Hexi (Héxī [河西]): administrative area Delingha County. Along with Hedong forms urbanized area of Delingha County, & the two areas are most commonly referred to as “Delingha.”

Hexi Corridor (Héxī Zǒuláng [河西走廊]): historical trading route Gansu. Bordered S by Qilian Mtns. & Tibetan Plateau & N by Gobi Desert.

Himalayan Plateau: see Tibetan Plateau.

Huang He Xiang (Huáng Hé Xiāng [黄河乡]): village Maduo County. 34.600672, 98.268468.

Huangshui River (Huángshuǐ Hé [湟水河]): largest tributary of Yellow River. Runs through Xining.

Huashixia (Huāshíxiá [花石峡]): village Maduo County on G214. 35.101275, 98.860780.

Huzhu County (Hùzhù Tǔzú Zìzhìxiàn [互助土族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haidong Prefecture. Full name: Huzhu Tu Autonomous County.

Jiabo Hot Spring (Jiǎbō Wēnquán [甲波温泉]): thermal spring Qilian County on S204. Elev. 3790 m (12,430 ft.). 38.790355, 98.665485.

Jiading (Jiādìng Zhèn [加定镇]): tourist center Huzhu County on Datong River & Qinghai-Gansu border. 36.951698, 102.494353.

Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School (Yùshù Shì Jiāngxī Huìmù Zhíyè Péixùn Xuéxiào [玉树市江西惠牧职业培训学校]): institution specializing in teaching Buddhist-style painting. Near Jiangxi Forest Management Area in Nangqian County. Elev. 3600 m (11,810 ft.). 32.076395, 97.063995.

Jiangxi Forest Management Area (Jiāngxī Línchǎng [江西林场]): forestry center & series of villages (“Jiangxi Village”), Nangqian County. 32.076777, 97.009417.

Jiegu (Jiégǔ Zhèn [结古镇]): urbanized area Yushu County, seat of Yushu County & Yushu Prefecture. Pop.: 56,800. Elev.: 3700 m (12,140 ft.). Commonly referred to as Yushu. 33.002242, 96.978488.

Jinzi Lake (Jīnzi Hǎi [金子海]): freshwater lake Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Elev.: 2990 m (9,810 ft.). 36.719109, 97.886371.

Kanda Gorge: see Kanda Mountains.

Kanda Mountains (Kǎndá Shān [坎达山]): high country Nangqian County. Elev. at mouth of Kanda Gorge, near Mekong/Zaqu River (32.277059, 96.485171): 3670 m (12,040 ft.). Elev. Kanda Pass (32.314561, 96.624807): 4680 m (15,350 ft.). Junction of G214 & road leading to Kanda Mountains: 32.315911, 96.454165.

Kanda Nunnery: religious institution Kanda Gorge. Reliable site for Tibetan Partridge & Tibetan Babax. Elev.: 3910 m (12,830 ft.). 32.291641, 96.512173.

Kanda Pass: see Kanda Mountains.

Lake Alake (Ālākè Hú [阿拉克湖]): lake Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Elev.: 4749 m (15,577 ft.). 35.568917, 97.128349.

Lake Donggeicuona (Dōnggěicuònà Hú [冬给错纳湖]): lake Maduo County, Guoluo Prefecture. Elev.: 3950 m (12,960 ft.). 35.290072, 98.537098.

Lake Xiligou (Xīlǐgōu Hú [希里沟湖]): saline lake Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Elev.: 2950 m (9,680 ft.). 36.838594, 98.462896.

Lamaozhi Siyuan (Lāmáozhì Sìyuàn [拉毛志寺院])

Lianhe Cun (Liánhé Cūn [联合村]): village Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 36.627763, 98.235107.

Machali (Mǎchálǐ Zhèn [玛查理镇]): town W Maduo County. Commonly referred to as Maduo. 34.911354, 98.211208.

Madoi County: see Maduo County.

Maduo (Mǎduō [玛多]): word that can be used for Maduo County & especially for Machali.

Maduo County (Mǎduō Xiàn [玛多县]): sub-prefectural administrative area W Guoluo Prefecture. Area: 25,000 sq. km (9,700 sq. mi.). Also known as Madoi County.

Maozhuang (Máozhuāng Xiāng [毛庄乡]): village Nangqian County. 32.266550, 96.824579.

Mekong River: seventh-longest river in Asia, 12th in world. Rises in Qinghai. Upper reaches also known as Zaqu River.

Menggu Bao (Měnggǔ Bāo [蒙古包]): “Menggu bao” means yurt, or circular tent in the style of the Mongolians. Here, the name refers to the area for tourists at the northernmost point on Delingha-Hala road on S shore of Hala Lake.

Menyuan County (Ményuán Huízú Zìzhìxiàn [门源回族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haibei Prefecture.

Mole Zhen (Mòlè Zhèn [默勒镇]): town Qilian County. 37.716626, 100.579661.

Nanchuan River (Nánchuān Hé [南川河]): tributary of Huangshui River, which it meets in Xining.

Nangqên County: see Nangqian County.

Nangqian (Nángqiān [囊谦]): word that can be used for Nangqian County & especially for Xiangda.

Nangqian County (Nángqiān Xiàn [囊谦县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Yushu Prefecture. Area: 11,539 sq. km (4,455 sq. mi.). Pop: 57,000. Contains southernmost point in Qinghai & borders Tibet. Once semi-independent kingdom. Also known as Nangqên County.

Nanshan: see Qilian Mountains.

Ngoring Lake: see Eling Lake.

Przevalski’s Site: birding area Dulan Mountains, Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture. So called because Przevalski’s Partridge & Przevalski’s Redstart have been found there. Turnoff to birding area is at KM 2335.5 on G109. Birding area at 36.457249, 98.502578.

Qabqa: see Qiabuqia.

Qiabuqia (Qiàbǔqià Zhèn [恰卜恰镇]): urbanized area Gonghe County, seat of Gonghe County & Hainan Prefecture. Commonly referred to as Gonghe. 36.275266, 100.624701.

Qilian County (Qílián Xiàn [祁连县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haibei Prefecture. Area: 15,610 sq. km (6,027 sq. mi.).

Qilian Mountains (Qílián Shān [祁连山]): range N China forming part of border between Qinghai & Gansu. Because range forms S boundary of Hexi Corridor, also known as Southern Mountains, or Nanshan (Nánshān [南山]).

Qilian Xiancheng (Qílián Xiànchéng [祁连县城]): informal & more commonly used name for Babao Zhen, administrative center of Qilian County in Haibei Prefecture. 38.176712, 100.247371.

Map of Qinghai with the eight prefectural-level divisions in white. Last week, our team covered the 800 km from Yushu-Jiegu to Xining (both marked in black). Map courtesy Wikipedia.
Map of Qinghai with the eight prefectural-level divisions in white. (Wikipedia/Craig Brelsford)

Qinghai (Qīnghǎi Shěng [青海省]): province NW China. Area: 720,000 sq. km (278,000 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): three times larger than United Kingdom; slightly larger than Texas. Pop.: 5.6 million.

Qinghai Lake (Qīnghǎi Hú [青海湖]): largest lake in Qinghai. 36.877808, 100.228673.

Qinghai-Tibet Plateau: see Tibetan Plateau.

Qingshizui (Qīngshízuǐ Zhèn [青石嘴镇]): town Menyuan County, Haibei Prefecture. 37.474644, 101.397441.

Qingshuihe (Qīngshuǐhé [清水河]): town on G214 S of Bayankala Pass. Elev.: 4270 m (14,010 ft.). 33.804499, 97.141026.

Rubber Mountain Pass (Xiàngpí Shān [橡皮山]): mountain crossing 22 km (13.7 mi.) W of Heimahe on G109. Elev.: 3817 m (12,520 ft.). 36.754213, 99.606705.

Ruo Shui: see Heihe River.

Shule River (Shūlè Hé [疏勒河]): river NW China rising in Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai, flowing through W Gansu, & emptying (historically) in Lop Nur in Xinjiang. Length: 905 km (562 mi.). Also known as Changma River (Chāngmǎ Hé [昌马河]).

Sàrìlāmǎzhū (萨日拉玛珠)

Shanglaxiu (Shànglāxiù [上拉秀]): town Yushu County.

Sichuan (Sìchuān Shěng [四川省]): province SW China bordering Qinghai to SE. Area: 485,000 sq. km (187,400 sq. mi.).

South Shule Mountains (Shūlè Nánshān [疏勒南山]): sub-range of Qilian Mountains N of Hala Lake, Haixi Prefecture.

South Tuole Mountains (Tuōlè Nánshān [拖勒南山]): sub-range Qilian Mountains in N Qinghai & W Gansu. Range runs between Yanglong & Suli & forms part of border between Haibei & Haixi prefectures. On some maps, 拖勒 written 拖来.

Subei County (Sùběi Měnggǔzú Zìzhì Xiàn [肃北蒙古族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area W Gansu, bordering Qinghai.

Suli (Sūlǐ Xiāng [苏里乡]): village on Shule River in Tianjun County, Haixi Prefecture. 38.702633, 98.026018.

Tiegai Xiang (Tiěgài Xiāng [铁盖乡]): village Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture. 35.989249, 100.194396.

Tianjun County (Tiānjùn Xiàn [天峻县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture.

Tibet (Xīzàng Zìzhìqū [西藏自治区]): provincial-level entity SW China bordering Qinghai to S. Area: 1,228,400 sq. km (474,300 sq. mi.). Full name: Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tibetan Plateau (Qīng Zàng Gāoyuán [青藏高原]): vast elevated plateau C Asia encompassing much of Qinghai. Highest & largest plateau on Earth. Contains headwaters of several major rivers, among them Yangtze River, Yellow River, & Mekong River. Chinese name translates as “Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.” Also known as Himalayan Plateau.

Tit-Warbler Mountain: birding spot near Heimahe containing much good scrub. To reach it, take the G109 from Heimahe to a dirt road near KM 2187 (36.782112, 99.675814). Drive to the end of this dirt road at 36.766994, 99.667711. Peak is at 36.758683, 99.663055. Elevation at top is 3620 m (11,870 ft.).

Tongtian River (Tōngtiān Hé [通天河]): another name for upper Yangtze River.

Tuanjie Feng (Tuánjié Fēng [团结峰]): see Gangze Wujie.

Tuole River ([拖勒河]): tributary of Heihe River. On some maps, 拖勒 written 拖来.

Ulan County: see Wulan County.

Wenquan (Wēnquán [温泉]): town Xinghai County, Hainan Prefecture.

Wulan County (Wūlán Xiàn [乌兰县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture. Also known as Ulan County. Area: 10,784 sq. km (4,164 sq. mi.)

Xiangda (Xiāngdá Zhèn [香达镇]): administrative center of Nangqian County. Commonly referred to as Nangqian. 32.202992, 96.475617.

Xiangride (Xiāngrìdé [香日德]): town Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 35.993651, 97.894235.

Xiangride River: watercourse Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture.

Xiao Sumang Xiang (Xiǎo Sūmǎng Xiāng [小苏莽乡]): village Yushu County near Qinghai-Tibet border. 32.347744, 97.252561.

Xinghai County (Xīnghǎi Xiàn [兴海县]): county SW Hainan Prefecture.

Xingxing Hai (Xīngxīng Hǎi [星星海]): lake Maduo County.

Xining (Xīníng [西宁]): word that can be used to refer to all of Xining Prefecture but most commonly used to describe the four urbanized districts centered around Chengzhong.

Xining Caojiabao Airport (Xīníng Cáojiābǎo Jīchǎng [西宁曹家堡机场]): airport Huzhu County, Haidong Prefecture, 30 km (19 mi.) E of downtown Xining. IATA: XNN. 36.527923, 102.040889.

Xining Prefecture (Xīníng Shì [西宁市]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai. Capital of Qinghai & most populous city on Tibetan Plateau. Area: 7372 sq. km (2,846 sq. mi.). Officially a “(prefectural-level) city.”

Yangkang Xiang (Yángkāng Xiāng [阳康乡]): village E of Hala Lake in Tianjun County, Haixi Prefecture. 37.675509, 98.635267.

Yanglong Xiang (Yānglóng Xiāng [央隆乡]): village W Haibei Prefecture, on the S204. 38.816483, 98.415873.

Yangtze River (Cháng Jiāng [长江]): longest river in Asia, third-longest in world. Rises in Qinghai.

Yankou Shan (Yànkǒu Shān [雁口山]): mtn. N of Yushu-Jiegu. Some slopes covered with primary high-alpine scrub. Elev.: 4458 m (14,622 ft.). 33.199406, 97.466606.

Yellow River (Huáng Hé [黄河]): third-longest river in Asia, sixth-longest in world. Rises in Qinghai.

Yeniu Gou (Yěniú Gōu [野牛沟]): village Qilian County. 38.457395, 99.542667.

Yong’an River (Yǒng’ān Hé [永安河]): river Haibei Prefecture.

Yushu Batang Airport (Yùshù Bātáng Jīchǎng [玉树巴塘机场]): airport Yushu Prefecture 18 km (11 mi.) S of Yushu-Jiegu. Elev. 3890 m (12,760 ft.). Eighth-highest civilian airport in world. 32.824982, 97.124989.

Yushu (Yùshù [玉树]): word that can be used to refer to Yushu Prefecture, to Yushu County, or most commonly to Jiegu.

Yushu County (Yùshù Shì [玉树市]): sub-prefectural administrative area Yushu Prefecture. County seat: Yushu-Jiegu. Area: 13,462 sq. km (5,198 sq. mi.). Pop.: 120,447. Officially, Yushu “City.”

Map of Qinghai showing Yushu Prefecture in yellow and Yushu County in pink. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Map of Qinghai showing Yushu Prefecture in yellow and Yushu County in pink. (Wikipedia)

Yushu Prefecture (Yùshù Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [玉树藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area Qinghai. Area: 188,794 sq. km (72,894 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): half the size of Germany; slightly larger than North Dakota. Second-largest prefecture in Qinghai. Covers most of S Qinghai. Pop.: 296,000. Prefectural seat: Yushu-Jiegu. Full name: Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Zaqu River (Zāqū [扎曲]): name for upper reaches of Mekong River in Qinghai.

Zhalong Gou Scenic Area (Qīnghǎi Shěng Hùzhù Běishān Zhālóng Gōu Jǐngqū [青海省互助北山扎龙沟景区]): protected area Huzhu County, Haidong Prefecture. 36.792287, 102.460685.

Ziqu River (Ziqū [子曲]): tributary of Zaqu River. Flows through Nangqian County.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Consulted in Shanghai.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions.

Grimmett, Richard, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm. One of three field guides we had with us in Qinghai, the others being MacKinnon’s a Field Guide to the Birds of China and the Collins Bird Guide.

Kennerley, Peter & David Pearson. Reed and Bush Warblers. Christopher Helm. Consulted at home.

Lynx Edicions. The Internet Bird Collection. ibc.lynxeds.com

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Along with the Collins Bird Guide and Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, one of the field guides we took with us to Qinghai.

Oriental Bird Club. Oriental Bird Images. orientalbirdimages.org.

Smith, Andrew T. & Yan Xie, eds. Mammals of China. Princeton University Press.

Mullarney, Killian, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterström, Peter Grant. Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins. Useful even in Qinghai. One of the three field guides we took to Qinghai (the others being A Field Guide to the Birds of China and Birds of the Indian Subcontinent).

Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World. xeno-canto.org.

EQUIPMENT

Cameras: Nikon D3S; for landscapes, Apple iPad, Apple iPhone 4S, and Apple iPhone 6
Lens: Nikon VR 600mm F/4G
Sound recorder: Olympus DM-650
Binoculars: Swarovski EL 8 x 32 (Craig), Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 (Elaine)
Spotting scope: Swarovski ATX-95

INDEX

“Qinghai, June-August 2016” contains an introduction and six parts. This is Part 6.

Introduction: A Summer in Qinghai
Part 1: Weeks 1 & 2
Part 2: Weeks 3 & 4
Part 3: Weeks 5 & 6
Part 4: Week 7
Part 5: Week 8
Part 6: Facts & Figures

This report is part of shanghaibirding.com’s extensive coverage of Qinghai. For the complete index to our posts on Qinghai, please see our page Birding in Qinghai. A list of our most prominent reports on Qinghai is below.

Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Exploring mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), our team found 98 species of bird and many key mammals, among them Tibetan Wolf.

Tibetan Bunting Leads Parade of Tibetan Plateau Endemics in Qinghai: shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford led a three-person team on a 23-day trip to Qinghai.

Qinghai in October: Jesper Hornskov and his team noted 178 species of bird in October, a time of year, Hornskov writes, “when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land.”

In addition to coverage of Qinghai and our core area of Shanghai, shanghaibirding.com has extensive coverage of other areas of China, among them

Yunnan
Xinjiang
Sichuan
Northeast China
Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

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Rare Autumn Record of Narcissus Flycatcher

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

On Thurs. 20 Oct. and Sun. 23 Oct., Elaine Du and I birded Nanhui and the sod farm south of Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). On 23 Oct. Elaine and I were joined by British birder Michael Grunwell. The two days yielded 92 species. After the Pomarine Jaeger, the big news was rare autumn sightings of Narcissus Flycatcher, another record of Nordmann’s Greenshank, and still more evidence that the highly threatened Nanhui wetland is much depended on by Black-faced Spoonbill.

Narcissus Flycatcher
Narcissus Flycatcher, male (top left) and three females, Nanhui, 23 Oct. Every year between 15 April and 15 May, Narcissus Flycatcher passes through the Shanghai region. It is fairly common during that time but rarely recorded in autumn. One of the most beautiful of Asia’s colorful flycatchers, Ficedula narcissina breeds in Japan and on Sakhalin and the adjacent Russian mainland. It winters in Borneo. (Craig Brelsford)

On 20 Oct. in the canal at the base of the sea wall at Cape Nanhui, Elaine and I had 18 Mandarin Duck and 2 season’s first Greater Scaup. On 23 Oct., the Nanhui microforests yielded Eurasian Woodcock, Ashy Minivet, Siberian Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, and season’s first Pale Thrush. A male Siberian Rubythroat popped out of the undergrowth and a Northern Boobook dozed before a crowd of photographers. At the line of trees (30.859995, 121.910061) near South Lock, 6 km south of the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489), we had season’s first Tristram’s Bunting. Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) is attracting ducks again, the most notable Sunday being season’s first Tufted Duck and Common Pochard.

The sod farm, which we visited Sunday morning, and which lies just off the S32 freeway, was worth the small investment of time required to get there. The grassy area gave us an unusually large (80) group of Red-throated Pipit. At Cape Nanhui, we have been experiencing this species only in fly-by mode, but at the farm dozens of them were feeding on the ground. Michael and I studied the pipits carefully and concluded the group was pure Red-throated; we saw not a single Buff-bellied Pipit.

Ducks are once again gracing the canals and ponds of Nanhui. The most numerous were, as expected, Eastern Spot-billed Duck (285 over the two days) and Eurasian Teal (270 on 23 Oct.). Less numerous was Eurasian Wigeon, and there were sprinklings of Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Garganey.

OTHER NOTES

— Uniquely among the Shanghai region’s passage-migrant flycatchers, most of which appear in roughly equal numbers on both the spring and autumn migrations, Narcissus Flycatcher appears almost exclusively on the spring migration. We were therefore pleasantly surprised Sunday to see the three males and three females. Did Typhoon Haima send them our way? What are the migration patterns of this beautiful flycatcher?

— The importance of the Nanhui wetlands—as well as the dangers they face—can hardly be overstated. On 20 Oct. at the skua site, Hé Xīn told me that the defunct wetland in which we were standing would already have been utterly transformed by now had it not been for the intervention of Chinese birders, who secured a one-year delay. Within a radius of a few hundred meters of the skua site stood 24 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and an endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. The dependence of Black-faced Spoonbill on the defunct wetland reserve is obvious and could be demonstrated by a group of high-schoolers doing a science project. Shanghai lies at the mouth of one of Earth’s greatest waterways (the Yangtze River) and is a major point on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway—yet this wealthy city, a world financial center with a rich natural heritage, entirely lacks an easily accessible wetland reserve on its mainland. The one, weak attempt—the defunct Nanhui reserve, with its crumbling buildings, torn-up boardwalk, and rotting signs—stands near the gallows, in the nick of time being given a stay of execution. And yet, even now, the defunct reserve, mismanaged, unloved, and undervalued, even now the place still attracts Class A birds! When, oh when, will the Shanghai government and Shanghai people learn to value at their true worth their spoonbills, greenshanks, and vagrant skuas? When, I ask, will they see as an asset to be cherished, and not a burden to be cast away, the thousands of birds that migrate through Earth’s greatest city? When will the Shanghai people apply their renowned cleverness and skill to protecting, rather than dredging up the home of, the symbol of their city, Reed Parrotbill? When will Shanghai take a cue from Hong Kong and build its own Mai Po? When will it follow the example of Singapore and create its own Sungei Buloh?

PHOTOS

Northern Boobook
Northern Boobook, one of four we saw 23 Oct. at Cape Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Black-faced Spoonbill
Pink-billed sub-adult Black-faced Spoonbill feeds in Nanhui’s defunct nature reserve (30.920507, 121.973159), 23 Oct. The spoonbill was surprisingly close to the road, driven there by lack of habitat. Despite the disadvantages of the site, the abandoned reserve remains one of the most hospitable places on the Shanghai coast for spoonbills and many other species. (Craig Brelsford)
Siberian Thrush
Siberian Thrush is a very shy bird. I have noted Geokichla sibirica in Heilongjiang, its breeding grounds, and even in breeding season the bird is hard to see. In these photos, however, taken Sun. 23 Oct. at Nanhui, this female Siberian Thrush is conspicuous. Why? Hunger. The migrant is exhausted and must feed. In the top panel, the thrush checks on me, then, almost in spite of itself, it attacks the leaf litter (middle panel). In the bottom panel, we see that the thrush has come up short; only a speck of leaf is in its bill. The thrush spent hours in Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), recharging after the long flight south. Despite their tiny size, the microforests of Nanhui provide forest habitat critical to woodland species such as Siberian Thrush. (Craig Brelsford)
Mandarin Duck
Mandarin Duck in the rain, Cape Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus at the sod farm. When the red throat is visible (Panel 1), the species is unmistakable. When it is not visible or lacking (2-4), Red-throated Pipit can be distinguished from Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus by the former’s better-defined black streaking on the back and crown and by its whitish mantle stripes. (Craig Brelsford)

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The Shanghai Skua

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Found at Cape Nanhui on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016: Pomarine Skua (called Pomarine Jaeger in North America). This first record for Shanghai was discovered by local birder Hé Xīn (何鑫) in the defunct nature reserve 1.4 km inland from the East China Sea. Kai Pflug was also on hand. Hé Xīn and Kai spread the news through our Shanghai Birding WeChat group, and the next day Elaine Du and I found the skua at the same spot (30.921625, 121.958940). The skua stayed four days, until Sat. 22 Oct.

The seabird appeared healthy, alternately feeding, preening, and roosting. Its plumage was shiny, and I saw no evidence of injury. It was a healthy refugee blown west by Typhoon Haima.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger
Look into the eyes of a predator. For many a lemming on the Arctic breeding grounds, this cold stare is the last sight they will ever see. National Geographic calls Pomarine Skua a ‘bulky brute with a commanding presence … a Rottweiler among the jaegers.’ (Craig Brelsford)

As sightings of skuas on the Chinese coast are rare, and because skuas have a bewildering array of plumages, at first there was some confusion about the species of our bird. It soon became clear that the vagrant was either Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus or Arctic Skua (IOC: Parasitic Jaeger) S. parasiticus. But which?

POMARINE ID BASICS

To answer that question, we needed photos, and so on Thurs. 20 Oct. Elaine and I drove to Cape Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Pudong.

We quickly found and photographed the bird. After examining our images, talking to other birders, and studying the books, we determined that it is a pale-morph adult pomarinus in non-breeding plumage. Here’s why:

— S. pomarinus is larger and bulkier than the other jaegers (small skuas), in particular the jaeger that it most resembles, S. parasiticus. The jaeger we found was large and bulky.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus. This heavy-set jaeger appears bulkier before the legs than behind. Note its bull neck, barrel chest, and short tail. Size is about equal to Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris (Brazil). S. parasiticus is equally bulky before and behind the legs, is longer-necked and less pot-bellied, and has a longer tail. (Craig Brelsford)

National Geographic describes pomarinus as a “bulky brute with a commanding presence [and a] thick bull-neck—a Rottweiler among the jaegers.” S. pomarinus, Geographic adds, “is the bulkiest [jaeger] and appears pot-bellied and very deep at the chest. … Often it appears there is more body before the wing than behind the wing.”

The image above is in line with that description. Below, another image illustrating the bulky shape and barrel chest.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger
The skua family (Stercorariidae) is monogeneric; all seven species are in the genus Stercorarius. In the United States and Canada, the smallest three Stercorarius are called jaegers, a convention followed by the IOC. The largest of the jaegers is Pomarine, the next-largest is Arctic Skua/Parasitic Jaeger, and the smallest is Long-tailed Skua/Long-tailed Jaeger S. longicaudus. All three jaegers breed on Arctic tundra in Eurasia and North America and winter at sea. All are kleptoparasitic—they steal food from other birds. This habit gives rise to the Chinese name for the family: ‘thief-gull’ (贼鸥). (Craig Brelsford)

In adult pale-morph pomarinus, the black helmet reaches below the gape, and black plumage surrounds the base of the bill. Most pale-morph parasiticus show a white spot at the base of the upper mandible and a less-extensive helmet that does not reach below the gape.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
The Shanghai pomarinus is a pale-morph adult in non-breeding plumage. (Traces of the yellow breeding plumage can be seen here on the cheeks and throat.) Its helmet reaches below the gape, and it lacks a pale spot at the base of the upper mandible. (Craig Brelsford)

Below, another close-up of the head. Note here and above that, unusually for pomarinus, the bill appears almost all-black.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger
The Shanghai pomarinus has an unusually dark bill. (Craig Brelsford)

Adult pale-morph pomarinus is more heavily barred than parasiticus. Most adult pale-morph pomarinus show a coarse breast band and dark barring on the flanks. Most adult pale-morph parasiticus show a diffuse greyish-brown breast band and lack barring on the flanks.

skua-pomarine008
Our pomarinus shows broad, coarse barring across the breast and on the flanks. (Craig Brelsford)

There are several other ID points, some of them, such as tail streamers, not visible in The Shanghai Skua. The points discussed above, however, are enough, we think, to clinch the ID.

OTHER PHOTOS

Enjoy these other photos of the rarity.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger
When Elaine and I arrived Thursday morning, a Grey Heron was harassing the strange intruder. (Craig Brelsford)

The skua was very tame and performed various functions in its unaccustomed surroundings. It scratched itself (below), bathed, scavenged dead fish, and occasionally took short flights.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
(Craig Brelsford)

Its most common activity was roosting on the mud bank.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger
(Craig Brelsford)

Kai Pflug got the photo below of the skua with wings upraised. Note the unbarred underwing and pale flash at the base of the primaries, further evidence that the skua is an adult.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger
Photo taken 19 Oct. 2016 by Kai Pflug.
Pomarine Skua
Compare the images of our non-breeding Pomarine with this shot of an individual in breeding plumage. Alaska, June. (Daniel Pettersson)

Hé Xīn (below) found The Shanghai Skua on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016, a historic first record for Shanghai. The next day I met Hé Xīn at the site.

Craig Brelsford (L), Hé Xīn (何鑫)
shanghaibirding.com editor Craig Brelsford (L) and Shanghai Skua discoverer Hé Xīn (何鑫), Cape Nanhui, 20 Oct. (Elaine Du)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Note: Nearly every major field guide covers skuas, a cosmopolitan family. This is a partial list showing the main works I consulted as I researched Stercorariidae.

Alderfer, Jonathan, ed. National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, 2006. Section “Skuas, Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers” by N.G. Howell and Alvaro Jaramillo. Jaegers, pp. 237-9.

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Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. News about the sighting of Pomarine Skua was disseminated by Hé Xīn and Kai Pflug through this chat group.

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, 2009. Skuas, pp. 230-3.

Grimmet, Richard & Carol Inskipp & Tim Inskipp. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, 2011. Pomarine Skua and Arctic Skua, p. 182.

Peterson, Roger Tory & Virginia Marie Peterson. Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Jaegers, p. 168.

Svensson, Lars & Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 1999-2009. Skuas, pp. 174-7.
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A Rare Look at salangensis Ashy Drongo

Each spring and autumn, Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus migrates through Shanghai. Race leucogenis breeds close to the Shanghai region and is the subspecies most commonly seen in Shanghai. The appearance at Nanhui of ssp. salangensis (pictured above) raises the question of exactly how numerous that central Chinese subspecies is on the Shanghai coast.

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

How dark was that migrating Ashy Drongo you just saw? You may want to pay attention, because the dark-grey central Chinese ssp. salangensis has been spotted at Cape Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Shanghai. In this post, I lay out the identification criteria for salangensis and the paler, more common ssp. leucogenis. My theory is that salangensis appears at some higher rate in Shanghai than has historically been recorded, which until recently has been not at all. An opportunity to fine-tune our understanding awaits us!

SEPARATING THE SUBSPECIES

Ashy Drongo
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus. 1, 2b: D. l. leucogenis, Laoshan (32.071265, 118.560699), July (Craig Brelsford). Laoshan, a site in Nanjing, Jiangsu 290 km (180 mi.) inland from Shanghai, is a breeding area for D. l. leucogenis. 2a, 4: D. l. salangensis, Cape Nanhui, October (Craig Brelsford). 3a: likely D. l. salangensis, Cape Nanhui, September (Kai Pflug). 3b: D. l. leucogenis, Henan, June. (Craig Brelsford).

Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus comprises 15 races, of which two are known in the Shanghai region: D. l. leucogenis and D. l. salangensis. D. l. leucogenis, the pale eastern race, is the more common migrant. D. l. salangensis is the darker race and is a vagrant to Shanghai.

A classic leucogenis (panels 1, 2b, 3b) is easy to distinguish from salangensis (2a, 4). A typical leucogenis is pale grey and shows a large white oval patch around the eye. D. l. salangensis is much darker, and its facial patch is reduced and less well defined. Both have a red iris.

Ashy Drongo
Ashy Drongo not only has many races but also can show considerable color variation within each race. The drongos shown here were photographed within a few hundred meters of each other in June in Henan. The drongo in Panel 1 is a classic pale leucogenis. The drongo in panels 2 and 3 is a very different-looking bird, with a noticeable greyish-blue tone. (Craig Brelsford)

Intermediate forms (3a) are trickier. They may be purebreds showing random color variation or hybrids. The breeding ranges of leucogenis and salangensis partly overlap, with salangensis breeding in south-central China (mainly or exclusively south of the Yangtze River) and leucogenis breeding over a broad swath of eastern and central China from Sichuan east to Shandong and as far south as Guangdong.

Many thanks to Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez. Martinez lives in Shenzhen and is an expert on the birds of southeast China. He was the first to point out that the photos of Ashy Drongo being posted on the Shanghai Birding WeChat group were of salangensis. Thanks also to Paul Holt, who offered his opinion on the breeding range of leucogenis, and to Kai Pflug, for yet another useful photo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Entry on Ashy Drongo, p. 300. Brazil’s opus grows weaker as the distance from Japan (his base) of the birds he is covering grows longer. Brazil offers no information on D. l. salangensis on the east coast of China.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 14, “Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows.” Entry for Ashy Drongo (p. 220) written by G.J. Rocamora and D. Yeatman-Berthelot. The authors have “N Gansu” as the northwestern limit of the breeding range of D. l. leucogenis. Is that likely? See also Paul Holt’s misgivings in MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps, below.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 13, “Penduline-tits to Shrikes.” Entry for Bull-headed Shrike (pp. 775-6) written by Masaoki Takagi. Long-tailed Shrike (p. 781) by Anton Krištín.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Entry on Ashy Drongo, pp. 281-2. MacKinnon has breeding range of D. l. leucogenis stretching to Heilongjiang. Paul Holt (Shanghai Birding WeChat group) disagrees, saying the northeastern limit is more likely Shandong. Holt writes: “I think that the weakest aspect of John MacKinnon’s ground-breaking field guide are the ranges, and again I don’t think HBW’s accurate on that front either. I’d discount Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, and Hebei from the breeding range of leucogenis Ashy Drongo and don’t believe that it can breed further north than Shandong (where it might not even occur) and southernmost Shanxi.”

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Ashy Drongo, p. 176.
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