Fairy Pitta

Fairy Pitta at Cape Nanhui

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

The autumn migration season in Shanghai has kicked off in style. Leading the parade of migrants is Fairy Pitta, seen in Microforest 2 (30.926051, 121.970781) at Cape Nanhui on Sat. 3 Sept. Another notable sighting on Saturday was Common Ringed Plover at the sod farm (31.112586, 121.824742) south of Pudong International Airport.

Partnering yet again with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du and I were out Sat. 27 Aug. and again the following Saturday, 3 Sept. On both days we found Asian Dowitcher and endangered Great Knot. On 3 Sept. a group of 135 Great Knot and 3 Asian Dowitcher were part of a wader roost of ca. 400 individuals in the canal between microforests 1 and 2. The roost also contained a single endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, 30 Red Knot, and 3 Curlew Sandpiper. On the mudflats nearby, we had a flyby of 3 endangered Far Eastern Curlew. On 27 Aug. a smaller roost at the same location had some of the species noted above as well as Grey-tailed Tattler. 27 Aug. also yielded a single Red-necked Phalarope.

Other highlights from 3 Sept.:

26 Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe at sod farm (31.112586, 121.824742) near Pudong Airport

ca. 200 near-threatened Black-tailed Godwit in that wader roost at Cape Nanhui

Oriental Pratincole
Oriental Pratincole at sod farm (31.112586, 121.824742) south of Pudong Airport, Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

230 Oriental Pratincole at Nanhui and sod farm

1 Lesser Coucal (juv.) in reed bed at Cape Nanhui

8 paradise flycatchers, all likely Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, in microforests at Nanhui

3 Siberian Blue Robin, 1 on Temple Mount (30.639778, 122.048256) on Lesser Yangshan Island and 2 at Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229), Nanhui

Siberian Blue Robin
I met this Siberian Blue Robin on Saturday on Temple Mount (30.639778, 122.048256), Lesser Yangshan Island. The robin displayed nicely for me. This past spring in Elaine’s hometown of Boli in Heilongjiang, I studied the songs of male Sibe Blues just like this one. What a song they sing. (Craig Brelsford)

8 Arctic-type Warbler on Lesser Yangshan and at Nanhui, plus records of Eastern Crowned Warbler and the tricky species pair Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. The Eastern Crowned Warbler were silent, but the Arctic-types and PaleSaks were calling.

516 Eastern Yellow Wagtail, most of this impressive number from Pudong Airport sod farm (31.112586, 121.824742 ) and the Nanhui sod farm on Ganlan Road (30.890865, 121.902011)


On 27 Aug. an international team of birders visited Cape Nanhui, Shanghai’s premier birding spot. L–R: Michael Grunwell (U.K.), Mikkel Thorup (Denmark), Komatsu Yasuhiko (Japan), and Elaine Du (China). (Craig Brelsford)

• On Sat. 27 Aug. we added to our trio special guest Mikkel Thorup, a mathematician from Denmark. This was not Mikkel’s first birding trip in China, but he is still fresh enough that he was picking off lifers left and right. Later, we were joined by the international high-school birding team of Komatsu Yasuhiko (Japan), Larry Chen (Canada), and Chi Shu (Shanghai).

• The decline of Lesser Yangshan Island as a birding spot is accelerating. Garbage Dump Coastal Plain is no longer a birding site. Where birders once ranged, earth-moving machines now sit, and new buildings are going up. Garbage Dump Gully (30.644194, 122.058660) is intact, but the increased activity on the coastal plain means that security, already tight now, may be even tighter in the future, and it may soon prove impossible to reach the gully. A migrant trap par excellence, Garbage Dump Gully is crucial to Shanghai birders. Over the years the gully has given birders Japanese Robin, Verditer Flycatcher, Varied Tit, White-bellied Green Pigeon, and scores of other good records. Garbage Dump Gully must be preserved; access to it must be sustained.

• On 27 Aug. we found a banded Black-tailed Godwit. As is my habit, I filled out and submitted the Leg Flag Report Form on the Web site of the Australasian Wader Studies Group. Our godwit, it turns out, received its bands on 19 June 2016 on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia (at 57.08, 156.64), 4000 km (2,486 mi.) from Shanghai. UPDATE: On 9 Sept. a godwit with the E7 band was found by Chinese photographer kaca at virtually the same location as the 27 Aug. sighting.

Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit, Nanhui. On left tibia note black band above yellow band. Yellow band says E7. On R tibia (Panel 4), can you see the metal band? Recording data like these helps researchers at the Australasian Wader Studies Group determine where your bird was banded. Whenever possible, they will report back to you with a history of the bird. Be on the lookout for banded birds, make your report, and enjoy the treat of a response from AWSG. Thanks to Komatsu Yasuhiko, who used my iPhone 6 and his spotting scope to get these images. (Komatsu Yasuhiko and Craig Brelsford)

• The task of ID-ing the Nordmann’s Greenshank was clear-cut. A Common Greenshank that appeared next to the Nordmann’s was helpful. The head of the Nordmann’s was proportionally larger than that of the Common, and it had a higher knee with shorter legs—an obviously stockier bird, a rugby player compared to a ballerina. The Nordmann’s stretched out its wing, revealing clean white plumage underneath. Common has a greyer underwing.


Fairy Pitta
Fairy Pitta, Microforest 2 (30.926051, 121.970781), Cape Nanhui. This pitta is a juvenile, recognizable as such by its red gape. It may have come from Jiangsu, or it may have come from Japan. Who knows the story it could tell. If all goes well, then in the coming weeks the pitta will arrive in Borneo to spend the winter. It is thought that migrating Fairy Pitta fly directly across the South China Sea from south China to Borneo. Our pitta is currently hugging the coast (Microforest 2 is literally a stone’s throw from the East China Sea). Our pitta will likely continue hugging the coast until at some point a mysterious instinct will kick in, and it will set off across the open sea. What a flight that will be! Most pittas stay in the tropics and are sedentary. Fairy Pitta breeds in subtropical and temperate Asia and makes the longest migration of any pitta. (Craig Brelsford)
Meadow Bunting
A juvenile Meadow Bunting stands at attention in Garbage Dump Gully (30.644194, 122.058660), Lesser Yangshan Island. A Lesser Yangshan specialty, Meadow Bunting breeds on the island. The species is rarely found in Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe's Snipe
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe, sod farm (31.112586, 121.824742) south of Pudong Airport. The shorter bill, dark underwings, and faint trailing edge to wing clearly distinguish these from Common Snipe. But to go beyond ‘Swintail’ requires skills beyond my ken. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha, Microforest 2 (30.926051, 121.970781), Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, Sun. 4 Sept. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko using Nikon D7100 + Tamron 150–600 F/5.6, F/6, 1/100, ISO 640.

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford is the founder of shanghaibirding.com. Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. Now back home in Florida, Brelsford maintains close ties to the Shanghai birding community and continues his enthusiastic development of this website. When Brelsford departed China, he was the top-ranked eBirder in that country, having noted more than 930 species. Brelsford was also the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai, with more than 320 species. Brelsford’s photos of birds have won various awards and been published in books and periodicals and on websites all over the world. Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, published in its entirety on this website, is the most Shanghai-centric field guide ever written. Brelsford is a graduate of the University of Florida and earned a master's in business administration at the University of Liege, Belgium.

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