The Waxwings of Shanghai

Japanese Waxwing
For many birders in Shanghai, Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica is an unexpected and welcome tick. The species is recorded most frequently at Pudong’s Binjiang Forest Park, where I photographed this individual. Gain familiarity with waxwings by reading this post. (Craig Brelsford)

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Shanghai birders record Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica and Bohemian Waxwing B. garrulus centralasiae irregularly in the urban parks, on the coast, and in suburban western Shanghai. Japanese Waxwing is reported nearly three times as often in Shanghai as Bohemian. Binjiang Forest Park in Pudong has both the most records and the largest recorded flocks, with counts as high as 40. Century Park is second to Binjiang in the number of records. Cape Nanhui has records of both species, all of individuals and small groups. Nearly all waxwing sightings in Shanghai occur between November and February. There are a handful of records from March, April, and May (eBird 2020).

I have noted Japanese Waxwing in November, December, and January at Binjiang and in January on Chongming Island. Bohemian Waxwing were mixed in with the flocks I saw of Japanese at Binjiang. I also have a record of a single Bohemian Waxwing on Lesser Yangshan Island in November.

Improve your chances of ticking waxwings in Shanghai by reading the species descriptions below and studying the photos.

JAPANESE WAXWING

Japanese Waxwing
Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica devouring a berry, Binjiang Forest Park, December. In winter, waxwings subsist almost entirely on berries. The fruit is usually swallowed whole, but occasionally, as above, the waxwing fails to loosen the berry from the stem and must peck it. (Craig Brelsford)
Waxwing Tails
The color of the tail-tip is the readiest differentiator between Bohemian Waxwing (top) and Japanese Waxwing (bottom). Note also the black subterminal bands, narrower in Japanese. (Craig Brelsford)

Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica is an irregular winter visitor and passage migrant in Shanghai. Breeds nearly exclusively in Russian Far East (E Yakutia, Amur, Khabarovsk, N Sakhalin). In China is irregular breeder in Lesser Khingan Mountains in Heilongjiang. Does not breed in Japan. Winters mainly eastern China, also Korea and Japan. More irregular south of Yangtze, but reported as far south as Fujian and Yunnan and as far west as Qinghai. BEHAVIOR In winter almost entirely frugivorous and almost always in flocks. Mixed flocks often contain Bohemian Waxwing. DESCRIPTION Thick neck and short tail give plump appearance. Has narrow black mask, from eye extending upward below crest, giving angry facial expression; eyeline meets on forehead and (unlike in Bohemian) connects at rear of crest. Black bib (clear-cut in male, more diffuse in female); white at lower base of bill and part of eye-ring (below rear part of eye). Forehead and malar cinnamon-brown, rest of head buff, turning greyish-brown on nape, mantle, and wing coverts; lower back, rump and uppertail coverts grey. Tail grey at base, with black subterminal band and red tip. Underparts pale greyish-brown, with varying amount of pale yellow on belly. White between and behind legs; vent and undertail coverts dull orange, but sometimes remarkably crimson. Has red band on greater coverts that in flight appears as small wing bar. Primary coverts blue-grey with broad black tips; secondaries grey with black subterminal band and red tips (but no red appendages, as on Bohemian). Primaries edged blue-grey on sides; the edging together with blue-grey on primary coverts and secondaries make wing look more blue-grey than black. Adult primaries tipped white (with red dots on a few outer webs), making “V” markings on closed wing (markings on outer web longer in Bohemian, making a connected line). Females have thinner V’s, and juveniles lack white on inner webs, having instead of “V” markings a white line along edge of folded wing. COMPARISON Easily distinguished from Bohemian by red terminal band on tail. Smaller and slimmer than Bohemian, and swept-back, pointed crest shorter than Bohemian. Wing pattern also different; Japanese lacks white and yellow in secondaries and wing coverts, instead having red band on median coverts, and broad black tips to grey greater coverts and primary coverts. Bohemian lacks yellow belly spot. BARE PARTS Bill short, black; strong feet black; iris brown. VOICE Pleasant trills, often delivered in flight, shorter, higher-pitched and less ringing than Bohemian. — Craig Brelsford

BOHEMIAN WAXWING

Bohemian Waxwing
Bohemian Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus, Binjiang Forest Park, November. Bohemian Waxwing is the widest-ranging of the world’s three waxwing species, with a distribution encompassing northern Eurasia and North America. (Craig Brelsford)
waxwing heads
The black masks of Japanese Waxwing (top) and Bohemian Waxwing (bottom) lend both species an ‘angry’ expression. Bohemian has a longer crest and a shorter eyeline that does not extend to the hindcrown. (Craig Brelsford)

Bohemian Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus centralasiae is an unpredictable and irruptive winter visitor to most of China north of the Yangtze and as far west as Qinghai and Xinjiang; sporadically to southern China and Taiwan. In Shanghai, reported about a third as often as Japanese Waxwing. BEHAVIOR In winter among most frugivorous of birds. Mostly insectivorous in summer, catching insects in aerial flights. Non-breeding usually in flocks, flying quickly and in tight formation, like starlings. DESCRIPTION Starling-sized, mainly buffy and greyish-brown, with long, swept-back, pointed crest and distinctive markings on wing. Thick neck and short tail give plump appearance. Has narrow black mask, from eye extending upwards below crest, giving angry facial expression; black meets on forehead but, unlike in Japanese, not on hindcrown. Black bib (clear cut in male, slightly more diffuse in female); white at lower base of bill and part of eye-ring. Forehead and malar cinnamon-brown, rest of head buff, turning greyish-brown on nape, mantle, and wing coverts; lower back, rump and uppertail coverts grey; tail grey at base, then black with broad yellow terminal band (narrower and paler in first-winter female). Underparts pale buffish-grey (palest on belly); deep rusty vent and undertail coverts. Primaries, primary coverts, and secondaries black with broad white tips to primary coverts and secondaries forming two bars; inner secondaries tipped with wax-like red appendages, most extensive in adult males and faint in first-winter females. Adult primaries tipped white on inner webs and yellow on outer webs (whiter towards wing tip), making “V” markings on closed wing; females have thinner V’s; juveniles lack white on inner webs and have less yellow, so instead of “V” markings have a mostly white line along edge of folded wing. COMPARISON Easily distinguished from smaller and more slender Japanese by yellow terminal band on tail (red on Japanese). Bohemian has longer crest and deeper chestnut vent and undertail coverts and lacks yellow spot on belly. BARE PARTS Bill short, black; strong feet black; iris brown. VOICE In winter, soft, ringing trills, often given in flight. — Craig Brelsford

PHOTOS

Waxwing Bellies
Japanese Waxwing (L) has a yellow spot on the central belly. In Bohemian (R) the belly is a more uniform buffish-grey. (Craig Brelsford)
Waxwing Wings
The secondaries of Bohemian Waxwing (R) have elongated and flattened red tips. These appendages resemble hardened droplets of wax and give the family its English name. In Japanese Waxwing (L) the secondaries are tipped bright red or pink. (Craig Brelsford)
Waxwing Flight
On fast-flying waxwings, note the yellow-and-white pattern on the wing of Bohemian (L) and the red scapular line and red-tipped secondaries of Japanese (R). (Craig Brelsford)
bohemian and japanese waxwing
Here is a scene typical of waxwings in Shanghai. A lone Bohemian Waxwing (C) is treated as one of the gang by the more numerous Japanese Waxwing. Smart birders in Shanghai scan closely each member of a flock of Japanese Waxwing, knowing that often a Bohemian will be mixed in. (Craig Brelsford)
Japanese Waxwing
Waxwings nearly always swallow berries whole, as here (Japanese) …
Bohemian Waxwing
… and here (Bohemian). (Craig Brelsford)
Waxwing Eating Berries
Waxwings go to great lengths to remove a berry from the stem. A Bohemian Waxwing twists its head powerfully to wrest the berry away (top). The unwanted parts fall (bottom L), and the berry is ready to eat (bottom R). (Craig Brelsford)
Japanese Waxwing
In winter waxwings alternate between feeding on berries, as here on Shanghai’s Chongming Island in January …
Japanese Waxwing
… and roosting on a nearby tree to digest their meal. (Craig Brelsford)
Japanese Waxwing
Of the world’s three species of waxwing, Japanese Waxwing has the most compact breeding range. The species breeds almost exclusively in the Russian Far East north of the 50th parallel and south of the tree line. The main wintering range of Japanese Waxwing is eastern China north of the Yangtze. In Shanghai, Japanese Waxwing is reported nearly three times as often as Bohemian (eBird 2020). (Craig Brelsford)
Bohemian Waxwing
This Bohemian Waxwing, photographed in November at Binjiang Forest Park, likely spent the summer in a boreal forest in Russia somewhere between the Ural Mountains and Kamchatka. The species is not known to breed in China. (Craig Brelsford)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for my Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, which I am publishing in bits and pieces on this website, and from which the species descriptions above are drawn.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark (2009). Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Brazil, Mark (2018). Birds of Japan. Helm Field Guides, London.

eBird (2020). eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Waxwings in Shanghai (Japanese: https://ebird.org/species/japwax1/CN-31; Bohemian: https://ebird.org/species/bohwax/CN-31). Waxwings in China (Japanese: https://ebird.org/species/japwax1/CN; Bohemian: https://ebird.org/species/bohwax/CN). Accessed: 31 Mar 2020.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

Mountjoy, D.J. (2005). Family Bombycillidae (Waxwings). Pp. 316-7 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 10. Cuckooshrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Svensson, Lars, Killian Mullarney, & Dan Zetterström (2009). Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. 2nd ed. HarperCollins, London.

Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

Be notified every time we post. Send an
email with “Subscribe” as the subject to
info@shanghaibirding.com

Donate to Shanghai Birding!




In 2012, Varied Tit Irrupted into Shanghai

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

From September through December 2012, Varied Tit burst into Earth’s Greatest City. For those few months, the status of Sittiparus varius varius in Shanghai went from “unrecorded” to “locally common.” I noted Varied Tit on various occasions on Lesser Yangshan Island and in urban Shanghai at Zhongshan Park, Changfeng Park, and Binjiang Forest Park.

The mass movement saw incursions of Varied Tit up and down the Chinese coast, with reports from as far south as Hong Kong. Unusually high numbers of Varied Tit were reported in South Korea as well as Japan (Loghry & Moores 2012).

The episode captured many birders’ imaginations, not only because of its ornithological interest, but also because Varied Tit is a beautiful bird.

Five years later, the 2012 irruption remains remarkable. Despite the growing number of birders in the Shanghai region, no one here has managed to find Varied Tit, a species not especially prone to irruptions.

Harrap and Quinn describe Varied Tit as resident throughout its range, with “some evidence,” some of which is “contradictory,” of movements south and to lower altitudes in winter. The word “irruption” does not appear in the authors’ otherwise exhaustive account of Varied Tit (1995).

In China, the nominate form of Varied Tit is confined to Northeast China (Liaoning and southern Jilin). It is resident as well on the adjacent Korean Peninsula and the main Japanese islands.

In 2012 as now, I was using my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens. Here are some of the photos I produced of Varied Tit.

Varied Tit
Varied Tit Sittiparus varius varius, Lesser Yangshan Island, 19 Nov. 2012. In the fall and winter of 2012, this colorful tit showed unusually high movements throughout its northeast Asian range, eventually spilling into the coastal provinces of China. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Changfeng Park, 17 Nov. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Changfeng Park, 17 Nov. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 Sept. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Lesser Yangshan Island, 5 Dec. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Changfeng Park, 17 Nov. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Lesser Yangshan Island, 19 Nov. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Lesser Yangshan Island, 5 Dec. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Varied Tit
Changfeng Park, 17 Nov. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

REFERENCES

Harrap, Simon & Quinn, David. Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, 1995. Varied Tit, pp. 70-1, 397-401.

Loghry, Jason & Moores, Nial. Varied Tit, Chinese Nuthatch and Yellow-bellied Tit: what else is on the move? birdskoreablog.org. (Accessed 15 September 2019)

Featured image: In autumn and winter 2012, Shanghai experienced an irruption of Varied Tit Sittiparus varius varius. (Craig Brelsford)
Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

Be notified every time we post. Send an
email with “Subscribe” as the subject to
info@shanghaibirding.com

Donate to Shanghai Birding!




111 Species at Core Shanghai Sites

Shanghai birders
Shanghai birders at Cape Nanhui. On 10 Dec., this international team attained the first-ever record of Red-crowned Crane on the Shanghai Peninsula. Standing, L-R: Andy Lee, Xú Yáng (徐扬), Xú Fènqiáng (徐奋强), Cài Jiàndōng (蔡见东), Michael Grunwell, Russell Boyman, & Lán Bāngxiàn (蓝邦宪). Bottom row: Zhāng Xuěhán (张雪寒), Zhāng Xiǎoyàn (张小艳), Zhāng Huá (张华), Lán Xī (兰溪), Chéng Yīxuān (程一轩), Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Mrs. Hao, & Hǎo Lèzhī (郝乐之). (Hǎo Zhàokuān [郝兆宽]).
by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Elaine and I birded four of the eight days between 3 Dec. and 10 Dec., noting 111 species. We birded three days at Cape Nanhui, half a day on Hengsha Island, and half a day at Binjiang Forest Park in Pudong. On 10 Dec. Elaine and I led a group of members of the Shanghai Birding WeChat group on a tour of Cape Nanhui. We birded the other days with Shanghai-based U.K. birder Michael Grunwell and U.S. birder Susan Lessner.

Major highlights were 2 Red-crowned Crane and Hooded Crane at Cape Nanhui and 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha as well as Baikal Teal and Red-breasted Flycatcher at Nanhui and Ferruginous Duck on Hengsha.

Nanhui also gave us three-day counts of 20 Vulnerable Swan Goose, 14 Greater White-fronted Goose, 190 Tundra Swan (bewickii), 255 Common Shelduck, 11 Greater Scaup, 4 Black-necked Grebe, Brown Crake, Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull, 2 Mew Gull Larus canus, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull (heuglini), late Eurasian Wryneck, uncommon winter visitor Dusky Warbler, 22 Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill, and 2 extralimital Common Starling.

We noted shorebird stragglers at Nanhui, among them Near Threatened Eurasian Curlew (2), Bar-tailed Godwit (1), and Red Knot (3). We recorded just 2 Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, and we found 3 Black-collared Starling near Pudong Airport.

Hengsha gave us a rare Shanghai sighting of adult-male Hen Harrier as well as 3 Chinese Grey Shrike and impressive numbers of buntings. In a single stretch of scrub just 500 m long, we counted 14 Little Bunting, 18 Rustic Bunting, 17 Yellow-throated Bunting, 4 Black-faced Bunting, and 150 Pallas’s Reed Bunting.

Binjiang Forest Park once again proved to be one of the only places in urban Shanghai where Great Spotted Woodpecker is reliable. Thrushes were numerous, with Naumann’s Thrush leading the list.

PHOTOS

Hen Harrier with Peregrine Falcon, Hengsha, 6 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Hen Harrier with Peregrine Falcon, Hengsha. (Craig Brelsford)
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher, Nanhui, 6 Dec. Rare Shanghai record. Note pinkish bill. (Craig Brelsford)
Dusky Thrush, 3 Dec. 2016, Nanhui. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Dusky Thrush, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Common Pochard, Nanhui, 6 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Common Pochard, a diving duck. Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Zitting Cisticola, Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Zitting Cisticola, a drop of color in the drab scrub. Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. (Craig Brelsford)
Collared Finchbill, Binjiang Forest Park, Pudong, 7 Dec. 2016. Digiscoped image by Elaine Du.
Collared Finchbill, parking lot of Binjiang Forest Park, Pudong, 7 Dec. Feral or natural? The jury’s still out on Binjiang’s Collared Finchbill, a mainly south Chinese species. (Elaine Du)
Shanghai birders viewing Baikal Teal. 10 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Shanghai birders viewing Baikal Teal at Cape Nanhui, 10 Dec. (Craig Brelsford)

Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

Be notified every time we post. Send an
email with “Subscribe” as the subject to
info@shanghaibirding.com

Donate to Shanghai Birding!