About a hundred Hooded Crane winter on Chongming, the great alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze. On the eastern tip of the island, Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve protects the cranes and dozens of other key species.
Eastern Chongming Island is made for car-birding. For best results, arrive early. Drive along the dike (if accessible; arrive early). Use your spotting scope to note migrants and overwintering birds such as Common Crane accompanying the Hooded Crane and threatened species such as Swan Goose and Far Eastern Curlew.
Ducks are common, with several species of Anas and other genera such as Mergus (Common Merganser, very rarely Scaly-sided Merganser) and Tadorna (Ruddy Shelduck, rarely Common Shelduck). Look carefully in the beds below the dike for Reed Parrotbill. Among your Circus species will be Hen Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, and the occasional Pied Harrier. In the reeds atop the dike and in the bushes popping up here and there, it’s possible to view birds arriving after a long migratory flight. Siberian Thrush and Arctic Warbler have shown up looking haggard and hungry.
The fields, ponds, marshes, and canals inside the dike are productive. When water in the ponds is low, waders arrive, with Black-faced Spoonbill always a valuable record and Temminck’s Stint sometimes seen. Look for migrating passerines such as Red-throated Pipit and taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail. Look overhead for Peregrine Falcon.
Some years, fields lie fallow and thick grasses and scrub return, providing ideal habitat for flocks containing hundreds of Brambling. Look for several species of bunting, among them the beautiful Chestnut-eared Bunting, along with Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Just about any migrating passerine is likely to show up in the new thickets, among them Siberian Rubythroat and even scarce species such as Brown-eared Bulbul. Long-eared Owl has appeared around those fields, and I have seen Japanese Reed Bunting. Hooded Crane roost in the stubbly fields, and Chinese Grey Shrike and Black-winged Kite have had a sustained presence there.
The first wooded areas lie several hundred meters inland and so have little of the visible migration to show. Japanese Waxwing and Bohemian Waxwing have appeared on berry-laden trees, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk have been known to birdwatch there. Among the many common wintering species are Pale Thrush and Dusky Thrush.
My teams usually birded four to six hours around Chongming Dongtan before heading to another site. We drive out from the city on the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel and Bridge. Sometimes we return to the city, and sometimes we continue on to Jiangsu over the Chongming-Qidong Yangtze River Bridge.
The fee area can offer good birds. Marsh Grassbird have been found in the fee area.
Featured image: 4 Hooded Crane and 1 Common Crane, Chongming Island, December. Middle crane is Common. (Craig Brelsford)