Birding Nanjing Zhongshan Botanical Garden

by Craig Brelsford


The Yangtze River separates the Indo-Malayan (Oriental) and Palearctic zoogeographical regions. Straddling that mighty river, Nanjing lies in the transition zone between the two regions. At Nanjing Zhongshan Botanical Garden, on the eastern side of the city at the base of Purple Mountain, one can see many southern Chinese species at the northern edge of their ranges. With easy access on the high-speed train from Shanghai, Nanjing is a convenient place to bird the eastern Chinese temperate forest. Elaine Du and I spent a day there, finding 34 species.

Saturday 30 November 2013

As my last visit to the Nanjing Zhongshan Botanical Garden had occurred almost exactly four years ago, I was a bit disoriented at first. I mistakenly had the taxi driver take me to the parking lot of the nearby Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. The mistake proved fortuitous; the parking lot is broad and surrounded by tall trees. Within minutes, we had seen our first set of southern species at the northern edge of their ranges: greater necklaced laughingthrush (黑领噪鹛, hēilǐngzàoméi, Garrulax pectoralis), lesser necklaced laughingthrush (小黑领噪鹛, xiǎo hēilǐngzàoméi, Garrulax monileger), and masked laughingthrush (黑脸噪鹛, hēiliǎn zàoméi, Garrulax perspicillatus). A lesser necklaced laughingthrush was among a flock of six greater necklaced laughingthrushes. At least two authorities (Brazil’s Birds of East Asia and the Handbook of the Birds of the World; see bibliography below) have the lesser necklaced laughingthrush occurring no farther north than southern Zhejiang. I have seen the lesser necklaced laughingthrush at Zhongshan Botanical Garden on two occasions, the other time being in 2009. Perhaps more research needs to be done on the northern limits of the range of the lesser necklaced laughingthrush. There were about seven masked laughingthrushes in a flock that moved through the parking lot and into the surrounding bushes. Two Amur wagtails (白鹡鸰, bái jílíng, Motacilla alba leucopsis, ssp. of white wagtail) were chasing each other. I had my only sighting that day of a grey treepie (灰树鹊, huī shùquè, Dendrocitta formosae), yet another species at the northern limit of its range. We got a taxi back to the Botanical Garden (entrance fee: 15 yuan per person). We immediately heard the thin calls of yellow-bellied tits (黄腹山雀, huángfù shānquè, Pardaliparus venustulus). We saw a pair of red-billed leiothrixes (红嘴相思鸟, hóngzuǐ xiāngsīniǎo, Leiothrix lutea), another species that in Nanjing is near the northern limit of its natural range; though with this popular cage bird one can never be sure whether the individuals one is seeing are birds that escaped from the cage or are descended from caged birds. Walking past the imposing bust of Sun Yat-sen, I saw a bush warbler in the vegetation at the base of a tree. It was calling constantly, a hard tak, tak, tak. This bush warbler hardly ever appeared from amid the thick brush, but its constant tak, tak, tak allowed me to know its general location and, more importantly, its direction. I decided to “head him off at the pass.” I found some dead, leafless branches and stood in front of them. Sure enough, within a few seconds the bush warbler appeared on those branches. The small, brown, nondescript warbler posed just 8.4 m from me. At home, after consulting my books and Oriental Bird Images, I concluded that the bird is a brown-flanked bush warbler (强脚树莺, qiángjiǎo shùyīng, Horornis fortipes). I patted myself on the back and moved on. We found yet another southern species, a collared finchbill (领雀嘴鹎, lǐng quèzuǐbēi, Spizixos semitorques). After walking into the thick forest, Elaine and I headed to the restaurant, Cuìxǐyuán Yǎngshēng Zhǔtí Cāntīng (翠玺園养生主题餐厅). We ate on the patio under sunny skies. The high that day at 32 degrees north, 118 degrees east was 12 degrees Celsius. Afterward, Elaine and I entered the garden below the restaurant. On my Qinghai trip this past summer, my partner and ace birder Jon Gallagher taught me to “bird the birds!” That is, the first place you should go in search of a bird is not where you think the bird may be, but where the bird has actually been seen, whether by you or someone else. Applying that principle, I waited for a speckled piculet. “The last time I was here, four years ago, I found a speckled piculet right in this very garden,” I told Elaine. “Let’s see if he’s still here!” My jaw dropped when, just seconds after finishing that sentence, what whizzed by but a speckled piculet (斑姬啄木鸟, bānjī zhuómùniǎo, Picumnus innominatus chinensis)! The tiny woodpecker delighted Elaine, who is new to birding and had never seen a speckled piculet. We watched this individual, a female, for several minutes. We left, searching for new birds, finding little, and taking a nap in the sunshine. We then returned to the restaurant garden and enjoyed watching the fast-moving piculet until sundown.

Systematic List

Galliformes: Phasianidae (Pheasants)

common pheasant (雉鸡, zhìjī, Phasianus colchicus); 1 female

Podicipediformes: Podicipedidae (Grebes)

little grebe (小䴙䴘, xiǎo pìtī, Tachybaptus ruficollis); 6 in pond near Cuìxǐyuán Yǎngshēng Zhǔtí Cāntīng

Columbiformes: Columbidae (Doves)

Oriental turtle dove (山斑鸠, shān bānjiū, Streptopelia orientalis); seen throughout day

spotted dove (珠颈斑鸠, zhūjǐng bānjiū, Spilopelia chinensis); 2 seen in trees

Piciformes: Picidae (Woodpeckers)

speckled piculet (斑姬啄木鸟, bānjī zhuómùniǎo, Picumnus innominatus); 1 female in garden near restaurant

great spotted woodpecker (大斑啄木鸟, dà bānzhuómùniǎo, Dendrocopos major); total of 3, seen in three places

grey-capped pygmy woodpecker (星头啄木鸟, xīngtóuzhuómùniǎo, Dendrocopos canicapillus); 7, seen singly or in pairs at three locations

grey-headed woodpecker (灰头啄木鸟, huītóu zhuómùniǎo, Picus canus); 2 together high in trees

Passeriformes: Corvidae (Crows)

azure-winged magpie (灰喜鹊, huī xǐquè, Cyanopica cyanus); flock of 10-12 near entrance gate to Míng Xiàolíng Mausoleum

red-billed blue magpie (红嘴蓝鹊, hóngzuǐ lánquè, Urocissa erythroryncha); 3

grey treepie (灰树鹊, huī shùquè, Dendrocitta formosae); 1

Eurasian magpie (喜鹊, xǐquè, Pica pica); 5

Passeriformes: Paridae (Tits)

yellow-bellied tit (黄腹山雀, huángfù shānquè, Pardaliparus venustulus); saw three flocks, each with perhaps 20 members

Japanese tit (远东山雀, yuǎndōng shānquè, Parus minor); 8

Passeriformes: Pycnonotidae (Bulbuls)

collared finchbill (领雀嘴鹎, lǐng quèzuǐbēi, Spizixos semitorques); 1 in flock of light-vented bulbuls

light-vented bulbul (白头鹎, báitóu bēi, Pycnonotus sinensis); seen in various locations

Passeriformes: Cettiidae (Bush Warblers)

brown-flanked bush warbler (强脚树莺, qiángjiǎo shùyīng, Horornis fortipes); 1 in thick bushes near bust of Sun Yat-sen

Passeriformes: Aegithalidae (Bushtits)

long-tailed tit (北长尾山雀, běi chángwěishānquè, Aegithalos caudatus); flock of perhaps 10

Passeriformes: Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)

Pallas’s leaf warbler (黄腰柳莺, huángyāoliǔyīng, Phylloscopus proregulus); 1 heard

Passeriformes: Leiothrichidae (Laughingthrushes)

Chinese hwamei (画眉, huàméi, Garrulax canorus); 1 seen clearly in thick forest

masked laughingthrush (黑脸噪鹛, hēiliǎn zàoméi, Garrulax perspicillatus); besides flock of 7 in morning, encountered another flock of perhaps 10 birds in afternoon

lesser necklaced laughingthrush (小黑领噪鹛, xiǎo hēilǐngzàoméi, Garrulax monileger); 1 among greater necklaced laughingthrushes

greater necklaced laughingthrush (黑领噪鹛, hēilǐngzàoméi, Garrulax pectoralis); flock of 6

red-billed leiothrix (红嘴相思鸟, hóngzuǐ xiāngsīniǎo, Leiothrix lutea); saw a pair

Passeriformes: Sylviidae (Sylviid Babblers)

vinous-throated parrotbill (棕头鸦雀, zōngtóu yāquè, Sinosuthora webbiana); heard noisy flock

Passeriformes: Turdidae (Thrushes)

White’s thrush (怀氏虎鸫, huáishì hǔdōng, Zoothera aurea); 1 high in trees

grey-backed thrush (灰背鸫, huībèi dōng, Turdus hortulorum); saw 2 females in separate locations

common blackbird (乌鸫, wū dōng, Turdus merula); total of 13, seen here and there

Passeriformes: Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

red-flanked bluetail (红胁蓝尾鸲, hóngxié lánwěiqú, Tarsiger cyanurus); saw immature or worn adult male and another probable female

Daurian redstart (北红尾鸲, běi hóngwěiqú, Phoenicurus auroreus); single female

Passeriformes: Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

Eurasian tree sparrow (树麻雀, shù máquè, Passer montanus); numerous, but not ubiquitous; absent from forested areas

Passeriformes: Motacillidae (Wagtails)

Amur wagtail (白鹡鸰, bái jílíng, Motacilla alba leucopsis, ssp. of white wagtail); 2

Passeriformes: Fringillidae (Finches)

Chinese grosbeak (黑尾蜡嘴雀, hēiwěi làzuǐquè, Eophona migratoria); 1

Eurasian siskin (黄雀, huángquè, Spinus spinus); saw flock high in trees in morning, then saw pair drinking from puddle in afternoon


Brazil, Mark. 2009. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, USA. (In backpack.)

Del Hoyo, Josep, Elliott, A., and Christie, D. (eds.). 2008. Handbook of the Birds of the World: Vol. 7: Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Del Hoyo, Josep, Elliott, A., and Christie, D. (eds.). 2009. Handbook of the Birds of the World: Vol. 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Grimmett, R., Inskipp, C. & Inskipp, T. 2011. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, London.

Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1995. Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches, & Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, USA.

Kennerley, Peter & Pearson, David. 2010. Reed and Bush Warblers. Illustrated by Brian Small. Christopher Helm, London.

Lynx Edicions. The Internet Bird Collection.

Oriental Bird Club. Oriental Bird Images.

Robson, C. 2005. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA.

Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World.

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