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

The rarities just keep on coming here in Shanghai. The latest is Swinhoe’s Rail, seen at the Magic Parking Lot in Nanhui on Sat. 29 Oct. 2016 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 birding month October 2016 was in Earth’s largest city!

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 Coturnicops exquisitus, Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229), Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016. Photographed by Shanghai photographer Chén Qí (陈骐; net name 上海爷胡子). © 2016 by 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.

ANOTHER UNUSUAL SIGHTING: BLACK-NAPED MONARCH

Black-naped Monarch, Wusong-Paotaiwan Park, Shanghai. Photo by Kai Pflug.
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea. (Kai Pflug)

The next day, Sun. 30 Oct. 2016, Kai Pflug found Black-naped Monarch at Wusong-Paotaiwan Wetland Park in Shanghai. Kai was acting on information from Chinese bird photographers who had discovered the bird earlier. The monarch is almost certainly wild. It is a first-winter bird, not the more beautiful adult male that presumably would be of greater interest to collectors, and in Kai’s photos one sees none of the damage common to birds kept in a cage.

Black-naped Monarch has been noted in Shanghai before, most recently on 2 Nov. 2014 by Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp. In China, H. a. styani usually ventures no further north than Guangdong. H. a. oberholseri is resident in Taiwan.

88 SPECIES FOR US

Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui. 29 Oct. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
On Saturday this Siberian Rubythroat mesmerized photographers at the Magic Parking Lot. (Craig Brelsford)

You know your birding area is rich when Nordmann’s Greenshank fails to capture the headline. On Sat. 29 Oct. 2016, the day the Swinhoe’s Rail electrified Shanghai birders, my partners Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I spotted the endangered Nordmann’s in the defunct nature reserve (30.920500, 121.973167) at Nanhui, near the skua site at 30.923915, 121.954738. We speculate that Saturday’s adult-winter Nordmann’s is the same individual we saw in the area on 15 Oct. and 20 Oct. and possibly as far back as 17 Sept. and 3 Sept.

Other highlights Saturday were 54 Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill found exclusively in the defunct nature reserve, further underscoring the critical importance of that highly threatened parcel of land. Joining Nordmann’s in the high-tide roost were 2 Ruff, a near-threatened Red Knot, and 2 of our day’s 4 Saunders’s Gull, a vulnerable species uncommon in Shanghai.

Long-eared Owl, Magic GPS Point, Saturday. Sharp-eyed Chén Qí spotted the owl and called us over. (Craig Brelsford)
Long-eared Owl, Magic GPS Point, Saturday. Sharp-eyed Chén Qí spotted the owl and called us over. (Craig Brelsford)

We had Japanese Grosbeak in Microforest 8 and Long-eared Owl at the Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551). Among our season’s firsts were 2 Tundra Bean Goose, Black-necked Grebe, 5 Goldcrest, Manchurian/Japanese Bush Warbler, 3 Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, and 2 Dusky Thrush. Buntings finally are arriving in numbers, with Yellow-throated Bunting (16) and Chestnut Bunting (3) debuting on our Autumn 2016 list. We had a lucky 88 species in all.

Daurian Redstart, Microforest 1, Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Daurian Redstart, Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635), Cape Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Throughout the day, the effectiveness of the Nanhui microforests was on display at Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). The tiny wood, which we visited off and on, was hopping with hungry migrants, grounded on a breezy day. Brambling, Daurian Redstart, and Yellow-bellied Tit were the tamest, but as the day wore on even shy species such as Japanese Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, and Black-winged Cuckooshrike were coming out into the open. Photographers were present, but no one was using mealworms; the forest birds were attracted solely to the habitat offered by a stand of trees no bigger than a tennis court.

Two East Asian species of Turdus thrush in Microforest 1. 1a-1c: Japanese Thrush Turdus cardis, male. 2, 3a, 4a: Japanese Thrush, female. 3b, 4b: Grey-backed Thrush T. hortulorum. Male T. cardis distinguished from Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus by smaller size and white belly covered with black arrowheads. Japanese and Grey-backed females are harder to separate (3a, 3b), in part because both are shy and rarely come into the open. In Japanese, the arrowheads run farther down the flanks (4a) than in Grey-backed (4b). 4a: Nanhui, November. 4b: Yangkou, Jiangsu, October. All others Microforest 1, Nanhui, 29 Oct. (Craig Brelsford)

Other microforests held Eurasian Woodcock, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Robin, Taiga Flycatcher, and White’s Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Pale Thrush. Dark-sided Flycatcher and Siberian Rubythroat were at the Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229), Asian Stubtail at the Magic GPS Point.

We netted season’s first Buff-bellied Pipit during a 35-minute stop at the sod farm near Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). Red-throated Pipit were present in smaller numbers (3) than six days earlier.

OTHER PHOTOS

Comparison of Shanghai-area pipits in winter plumage. 1, 3a, 4b: Buff-bellied Pipit. 2: Water Pipit. 3b: Red-throated Pipit. 4a: Olive-backed Pipit. (Craig Brelsford)
Comparison of non-breeding Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus with other Shanghai-area pipits. Buff-bellied is mainly greyish-brown above with a poorly streaked mantle, pale lores, and yellowish-pink legs (Panel 1). Water Pipit A. spinoletta blakistoni has brownish-black legs and a smudge on its lores (2). Buff-bellied Pipit (3a) shows much less streaking on mantle and crown than Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus (3b). Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni hodgsoni/yunnanensis (4a) shows two spots on the ear coverts: a whitish spot in the upper rear corner and a black spot below it. Olive-backed Pipit has a supercilium buffish before the eye and white behind it. Buff-bellied Pipit (4b) has unspotted ear coverts and a supercilium buffish or whitish throughout. 1, 3a: sod farm near Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742), October. 2a: Near Wucheng Zhen (吴城镇; 29.180555, 116.010175), Poyang Lake area, Jiangxi, November. 3b: Nanhui, Shanghai, January. 4a: Yangkou, Jiangsu, May. 4b: Hengsha Island, Shanghai, November. (Craig Brelsford)
Brambling, Nanhui, Shanghai, 29 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Brambling, Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016. We found these birds in Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). Famished after the long flight south, the bramblings were very tame, allowing me to get these close-ups. Male Fringilla montifringilla (R) shows marked variation between breeding and non-breeding plumage; the female (L) shows less. All plumages show a white rump (L). Breeding male has an all-black bill, but in winter the bill is yellow with a black tip, like the female. The glossy blue-black head of breeding male becomes rusty-fringed in winter. Brambling breed across Eurasia and are present throughout the winter in Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alström, Per, Krister Mild & Bill Zetterström. Pipits and Wagtails. Princeton University Press, 2003. This landmark book, co-authored by Shanghai Birding member Per Alström, is my first reference on all things Motacillidae. Of particular use was p. 56, “Water Pipit and Allies (in fresh winter plumage).”

Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.

Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. Rough drafts for parts of this post were written by Craig on Shanghai Birding. News about the rail was first circulated on Shanghai Birding.

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, 2009. Thrushes and pipits.

Svensson, Lars & Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 1999-2009. Outstanding illustrations of pipits by Mullarney.
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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. Craig 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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