Black-faced Spoonbill in sub-adult plumage, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 7 May 2016. The spoonbills were taking advantage of the rainy weather, using pools just below the sea wall road. The road is busy when the weather is good but on rainy days is quiet.

Rainy, Quiet Nanhui

Elaine Du and I noted 86 species over the rainy weekend of 7-8 May 2016. We had White-shouldered Starling, Siberian Blue Robin, and Chestnut Bunting on Lesser Yangshan Island and Chinese Egret, Black-faced Spoonbill, and Curlew Sandpiper at Nanhui. I got my best view of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Nanhui, and on Yangshan our partner Michael Grunwell got his best view of Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. Other passage migrants were Brown Shrike, Eyebrowed Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, and season’s first Dark-sided Flycatcher at Nanhui and Blue-and-white Flycatcher on Lesser Yangshan.

9 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill make use of a pond a stone's throw from the sea-wall road at Nanhui. The rainy day depressed the numbers of tourists and made Nanhui quieter, giving these sub-adults a much-needed opportunity to chill out.
9 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill make use of a pond a stone’s throw from the sea-wall road at Nanhui. The rainy day depressed the numbers of tourists and made Nanhui quieter, giving these sub-adults a much-needed opportunity to chill out. (Craig Brelsford)

The nearly constant rain made birding challenging but had its good points. While depressing our bird count, especially on Sunday (just 62 species), the rain also depressed the number of visitors, giving Nanhui its former wild feel. The lack of tourists and their vehicles on Sunday allowed 9 Black-faced Spoonbill to exploit a good pond just a stone’s throw from the usually busy sea-wall road. The spoonbills, all sub-adults in non-breeding plumage, noted our car and went back to feeding. On that same pond on Saturday, we captured in a single photograph 6 birds representing five species: 2 Black-faced Spoonbill plus Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, and Chinese Egret.

6 Birds, 5 Species, 1 Photo: Top: Black-faced Spoonbill. Bottom, L-R: Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Chinese Egret.
6 Birds, 5 Species, 1 Photo: Top: Black-faced Spoonbill. Bottom, L-R: Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Chinese Egret. (Craig Brelsford)

Though rainy, the weather Sunday was not windy; the lack of wind plus lack of cars made Nanhui quiet and good for sound-recording. I got a particularly good recording of Black-browed Reed Warbler and Oriental Reed Warbler. Note the more slowly delivered, more powerful song of the much larger Oriental Reed Warbler.

Black-browed Reed Warbler, Song (01:19; 3.9 MB)

Oriental Reed Warbler, Song (01:00; 3.2 MB)

I also made a recording of a bird that may be Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (00:15; 1.4 MB):

Phylloscopus borealoides was one of my hot topics over the weekend, after the excitement caused by my encounter on 5 May with a Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. The tink sound I recorded on Saturday at Nanhui was delivered faster than and at a slightly different pitch from the majority of tink calls assigned to Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and currently available on xeno-canto.org. The call more closely matches the quickly delivered, higher-pitched tink calls assigned to Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

I got a good look at the leaf warbler I recorded. It was obviously a Pale-legged or Sakhalin, but the crown was greyer than in a normal Pale/Sak and it contrasted more with the olive-brown mantle. Mark Brazil in Birds of East Asia notes the “strong contrast between greyish-toned crown/nape, and greenish (or brownish) mantle” of Sak. However, these characters are only more likely to be found in Sak; they may also be found in Pale. Because the features of the two species overlap, only song or a DNA test is diagnostic.

Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. Both species are possible in Shanghai this time of year. Of the two species, Brazil says, "[F]ield identification criteria remain uncertain."
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. Both species are possible in Shanghai this time of year. Of the two species, Brazil says, ‘[F]ield identification criteria remain uncertain.’ (Craig Brelsford)
Elaine and I came upon three other birds that are hard to ID to species level. The question of Pale or Sand Martin is nettlesome, as is separating Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians from Manchurian Bush Warbler H. borealis borealis. I know that the Shanghai region falls within the breeding range of canturians, but borealis very likely passes through this region, and Kennerley and Pearson suggest that migrating borealis may sing. Certainly some of the canturians/borealis that we see here are breeding canturians; the problem is singling one out with any certainty.

Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis, Nanhui, 8 May. This bird was singing and is presumably a canturians.
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis, Nanhui, 8 May. This bird was singing and is presumably a canturians. (Craig Brelsford)

Another problem is the non-calling Cuculus cuckoos one encounters in Shanghai. On size one can often distinguish a well-viewed Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, and if the eye is seen well one can distinguish the dark iris of Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus. Common Cuckoo C. canorus, Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus, and Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus are larger than C. poliocephalus, and unlike C. micropterus have yellow irides. C. optatus and C. saturatus are virtually indistinguishable, but this pair and C. canorus have some differences, among them the often unbarred yellow undertail coverts of C. optatus/saturatus and the thicker barring of those species on the breast and belly.

Common Cuckoo almost certainly breeds in Nanhui, and very soon we should be hearing its famous call. I have recorded neither C. optatus nor C. saturatus in the Shanghai region, I have witnessed C. micropterus in Shanghai, in the Tianmu Mountains, and at Dongtai in Jiangsu, and I have found C. poliocephalus at Dongtai.

Cuculus cuckoo, Nanhui, 8 May 2016. By size we know it's not Lesser Cuckoo, by iris color we know it's not Indian Cuckoo, and we can guess that it's probably Common Cuckoo. But Himalyan and Oriental can't be ruled out.
Cuculus cuckoo, Nanhui, 8 May 2016. By size we know it’s not Lesser Cuckoo, by iris color we know it’s not Indian Cuckoo, and we can guess that it’s probably Common Cuckoo. But Himalayan and Oriental can’t be ruled out. (Craig Brelsford)

In springtime, one encounters Cuculus adults, which if not calling are hard enough to ID; but just wait, come autumn we will be seeing the juveniles coming through. Juveniles never call, and the various Cuculus species in juvenile form resemble each other even more than Cuculus adults.

On Saturday, Elaine and I birded once again with Shanghai-based English birder Michael Grunwell. On Sunday, we birded briefly with Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, and later Kai Pflug and his wife Jing dropped by.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Lesser Yangshan Island, 7 May 2016.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Lesser Yangshan Island, 7 May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Tristram's Bunting, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. A passage migrant in Shanghai, Emberiza tristrami is a woodland bunting and is often found in the microforests at Nanhui. This is a female.
Tristram’s Bunting, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. A passage migrant in Shanghai, Emberiza tristrami is a woodland bunting and is often found in the microforests at Nanhui. This is a female. (Craig Brelsford)
Grey-streaked Flycatcher in the rain, Nanhui, 7 May 2016.
Grey-streaked Flycatcher in the rain, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Black-faced Spoonbill in sub-adult plumage, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 7 May 2016. The spoonbills were taking advantage of the rainy weather, using pools just below the sea wall road. The road is busy when the weather is good but on rainy days is quiet. (Craig Brelsford)

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. When he departed China, Craig was the top-ranked eBirder in the country, having noted 933 species, as well as the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai (323 species). A 1993 graduate of the University of Florida, Craig was an award-winning newspaper editor in the United States for 10 years. In 2002, Craig earned a master's in business administration from the University of Liege in Belgium. Craig lives in Debary, Florida with his wife, Elaine, and their son, Tiny.

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