Swinhoe's Rail Coturnicops exquisitus, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui, Shanghai, Sat. 29 Oct. 2016. One of the rarest birds in China. Photographed by Shanghai photographer Chén Qí (陈骐; net name 上海爷胡子). © 2016 by Chén Qí. Used with permission.

Swinhoe’s Rail in Shanghai

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

The rarities just keep on coming here in Shanghai. The latest is Swinhoe’s Rail, seen at the Magic Parking Lot at Cape Nanhui on Sat. 29 Oct. by a trio of Shanghai bird photographers. The photo above was taken by one of the three, Chén Qí (陈骐).

This amazing find comes on the heels of Shanghai’s first record of Crow-billed Drongo on 11 Oct. and Pomarine Skua on 19 Oct. What a month October was in Earth’s largest city!

Swinhoe's Rail
Swinhoe’s Rail Coturnicops exquisitus, Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229), Nanhui, 29 Oct. Photographed by Shanghai photographer Chén Qí (陈骐; net name 上海爷胡子). © Chén Qí.

I got the news about the rail from Chén Qí’s wife, Wāng Yàjīng (汪亚菁). Near dark, as I was returning home after my own eventful day at Nanhui, Wāng Yàjīng called me to report that she had just seen a strange bird. The bird, Yàjīng said, popped its head out of the bushes at the well-known photographers’ setup at the edge of the lot. It showed half its body and disappeared. The episode lasted a few seconds, Yàjīng said.

One look at the photo Yàjīng sent me, and there was no doubt: Swinhoe’s Rail.

The smallest rail in the world, Swinhoe’s Rail is also one of the least-known. The IUCN lists it as vulnerable.

On Sun. 30 Oct. 2016, photographers maintaining a long vigil saw the rail again.

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford is the founder of shanghaibirding.com. Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. When he left China, Brelsford was the top-ranked eBirder in China (930+ species) and Shanghai (320+ species). Now back home in Florida, Brelsford maintains close ties to the Shanghai birding community and continues to make shanghaibirding.com better than ever. Brelsford is a graduate of the University of Florida and earned a master's in business administration at the University of Liege, Belgium.

4 thoughts on “Swinhoe’s Rail in Shanghai”

  1. Dear Craig Brelsford,

    I work as an ornithologist in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve, located in the Ussuriland, Far East of Russia. The reserve displays a really beautiful and fantastically diverse natural landscape! Despite being better known for the protection of Amur tigers, 388 bird species can be found there.

    Over the past year, I have been working on producing a photographic field guide of birds from the Sikhote-Alin reserve, aimed at visitors, employees of the reserve, specialists in environmental education, biology teachers and nature lovers. Only 2 of such guides have been issued in the past 40 years in the Ussuriland; few copies have been printed and they are hard to find. The Sikhote-Alin Reserve was established in 1935, but since then the creation of the field guide has not been a priority.

    Reserves in Russia are state-funded and resources, of course, are very limited. I love birds and the nature of my native land. I am convinced that ecological education for locals and guests is instrumental in the preservation of the unique Far East ecosystem. Towards this end, I am working towards the draft of a guide: I collect photographs, caption them and I am creating a book layout on my own. I have also submitted an application requesting additional funding for printing the guide.

    Photos of 387 bird species have been crowdsourced free of charge from more than 80 Russian and foreign ornithologists and photographers. I am still trying to collect picture of 1 species that are very rarely found in the Sikhote-Alin reserve (and in the world) and prove to be very hard to be photographed in high quality. It’s Swinhoe’s Rail (Coturnicops exquisitus). I have found great shots of Chen Qi in 2016 October in this post, but I have no idea how to contact the author. I would very appreciate if you help me to get in touch with Chen Qi or, otherwise, find other pictures of this bird.

    Unfortunately I can not afford to purchase the pictures, so sorry about it. If necessary, I will try to find some money though. I will reference the photo very clearly. Moreover, I will send to author a copy of theguide—just keep in mind that printing of the book is planned for the beginning of 2020. I can also guarantee that the picture will not be posted on the Internet, used in other publications or shared with third parties. I will use it exclusively for the birds’ field guide of the Sikhote-Alin Reserve (estimated print run of 500 copies). The book will be distributed free of charge.

    If you would like to visit our reserve with its uniquely beautiful nature, we will be happy to show you around! I cannot guarantee tiger sightings, but we will try our best 🙂 At the very least, the birds will be there all the time.

    1. Best wishes with your project! I have contacted Chen Qi, and he says yes, by all means, use his photos of Swinhoe’s Rail, and thanks for sending him a copy of your guide.

      Oh, how I longed to enter Ussuriland! How wonderful Sikhote-Alin Reserve must be.

      In Heilongjiang I gazed at the Russian side from many places, some along the Ussuri River, some along the Amur River. The Russian side was beautiful, green, and empty. I knew that many of the birds I love from Heilongjiang are more abundant on the Russian side.

      I stood on a hill in Fuyuan, Heilongjiang and was able to see, far in the distance, the city of Khabarovsk.

      Have you seen my reports on birding Heilongjiang? They should be of interest to you. This one is the best: https://www.shanghaibirding.com/heilongjiang/

      I’m interested in the occurrence of the following birds in Sikhote-Alin:

      Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii
      Streaked Reed Warbler Acrocephalus sorghophilus

      Best wishes with the bird guide to Sikhote-Alin, and please keep in touch.

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