Oriental Plover Highlight 103-Species Weekend

On Sat. 9 April and Sun. 10 April 2016, Elaine Du and I noted 103 species at three Shanghai-area birding hot spots. We had Oriental Plover and Black-faced Spoonbill on Hengsha, the latter present also at Cape Nanhui, where we found in addition Brown Crake, Greater Sand Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Grassbird, Bluethroat, and Citrine Wagtail. Lesser Yangshan yielded out-of-range Rufous-faced Warbler and our season’s first flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher. Other season’s firsts were Eurasian Wryneck and Oriental Reed Warbler on Hengsha, Oriental Pratincole, Japanese Thrush, Tristram’s Bunting, and Meadow Bunting on Lesser Yangshan, and Broad-billed Sandpiper at Nanhui. Garganey and singing Brown-flanked Bush Warbler were on Hengsha and Temminck’s Stint and Grey-backed Thrush were noted at Nanhui. Red-throated Pipit were on Hengsha and Nanhui, as were Intermediate Egret, “SwintailSnipe, Reed Parrotbill, and Chestnut-eared Bunting.

Citrine Wagtail, Nanhui, 10 April 2016. Perhaps the most beautiful of wagtails, Motacilla citreola is a scarce passage migrant in Shanghai.
Citrine Wagtail, Nanhui, 10 April 2016. Perhaps the most beautiful of wagtails, Motacilla citreola is a scarce passage migrant in Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

On Sat. 9 April Elaine and I birded Hengsha, the alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze. Our target was Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus, which we found after a short search. Oriental Plover breeds in deserts and steppes mainly in Mongolia, and in China in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia. For Elaine, Ori Pluv was a virtual lifer, as her only previous experience with the species was our quick, long-distance look at an individual near Hulun Lake last July.

It is spring and Meadow Bunting are staking out territories on Lesser Yangshan. This aggressive little fellow had attracted the attention of a female, which kept to the undergrowth while he roared. Common on Lesser Yangshan, Emberiza cioides is almost never recorded on the nearby coast.
It is spring and Meadow Bunting are staking out territories on Lesser Yangshan. This aggressive little fellow had attracted the attention of a female, which kept to the undergrowth while he roared. Common on Lesser Yangshan, Emberiza cioides is almost never recorded on the nearby coast. (Craig Brelsford)

On Sun. 10 April Elaine and I were joined by Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell. We noted 90 species on Lesser Yangshan Island and at Nanhui.

The three of us found 30 singing Marsh Grassbird in the large reed bed at 30.866006, 121.939614, a point 2.8 km south of the lock at Nanhui and 4.1 km south of the Magic Parking Lot/Holiday Inn (30.882784, 121.972782). An unpaved road leads into the marsh. The grassbirds were noted only in that reed bed and not in other seemingly suitable reed beds elsewhere at Nanhui. The grassbirds were using only those parts of the reed bed far from the road. They were making their curving display flight.

Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Nanhui, Shanghai, 10 April 2016.
Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Cape Nanhui, 10 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Marsh Grassbird is also known as Japanese Swamp Warbler and Japanese Marsh Warbler. It is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. The IUCN notes that Marsh Grassbird is “very sensitive to habitat structure and does not tolerate vegetation that is too short or too tall.” It is threatened mainly by the conversion of its wetland habitat to other uses.

Speaking of conversions, new construction is changing all three of the birding spots we visited last weekend. The transformation at Nanhui has been noted by me here and here. Lesser Yangshan Island is being converted from an island to an even bigger megaport, and Garbage Dump Coastal Plain (30.638860, 122.060089) is steadily growing unbirdable. A bright spot on Lesser Yangshan is the new wetland (30.611902, 122.114873) on reclaimed land between Lesser Yangshan and Dazhitou Island.

Will this 100-hectare plantation of trees add a new dimension to birding on Hengsha?
Will this 100-hectare plantation of trees add a new dimension to birding on Hengsha? (Craig Brelsford)

In the reclaimed area on Hengsha, a 100-hectare area at 31.299495, 121.893845 is being converted from savanna to forest. That is an area about two-thirds the size of Century Park in Pudong. This may be good news, as the tree plantation may attract forest species such as flycatchers and leaf warblers, families that on the formerly treeless reclaimed area at Hengsha have always been scarce.

The springtime birding season in Shanghai is really picking up steam. On the Web site of the Shanghai Wild Bird Society, shwbs.org, birders have recently reported Long-billed Dowitcher, Asian Dowitcher, and Ruff on Chongming and Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Black Redstart on Hengsha.

Intermediate Egret with prey, Hengsha, 9 April 2016.
Intermediate Egret with prey, Hengsha, 9 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Green Sandpiper in gully below Guanyin Temple, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016.
Green Sandpiper in gully below Guanyin Temple, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Around sunset, this Brown Crake emerged onto the grassy base of the sea wall to forage. I had never noted Brown Crake in Shanghai. Nanhui, 10 April 2016.
Around sunset, this Brown Crake emerged onto the grassy base of the sea wall to forage. I had never noted Brown Crake in Shanghai. Nanhui, 10 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Craig Brelsford in Garbage Dump Gully, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Craig Brelsford in Garbage Dump Gully, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016. (Elaine Du)

Featured image: Oriental Plover, Hengsha Island, Shanghai, 9 April 2016.

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Dulong Gorge, Yunnan: Part 2

Editor’s note: For “Dulong Gorge, Yunnan: The First Week,” the first in this two-part series on birding Dulong Gorge, please click here.

The second half of our Dulong trip lasted 13 days, from 23 Feb. to 6 March 2016. Brian Ivon Jones, my wife Elaine Du, and I saw drier weather and a rich procession of birds, taking our species count to 170. We found Golden-naped Finch at bird-rich Sibia Lane, we noted Fire-tailed Myzornis at various locations, we marveled at Ibisbill on the Dulong River, and we witnessed a spectacular flock of 300 Grandala. With the clearing of mudslides that had blocked access to the southern end of the gorge, we spent five days around Qinlangdang. There, Brian noted Beautiful Nuthatch, and we found Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, Himalayan Cutia, and Scaly-breasted Cupwing. Driving and walking along the twisting roads, we noted Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Gould’s Shortwing, Long-billed Wren-Babbler, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, and the newly described Himalayan Thrush and Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush. Rufous-breasted Bush Robin made several appearances at various elevations, Himalayan Bluetail was noted in smaller numbers, and White-naped Yuhina and Yellow-throated Fulvetta often were in large flocks. Heading back to Kunming, we found Banded Bay Cuckoo near Wayaozhen.

RAIN, RAIN, RAIN … AND A REPRIEVE

This mudslide near Bapo temporarily kept us away from the bird-rich areas around Qinlangdang. Mudslides are common in the Dulong Gorge.
This mudslide near Bapo temporarily kept us away from the bird-rich areas around Qinlangdang. Mudslides are common in the Dulong Gorge. (Craig Brelsford)

The rain from the first week of the trip was still with us on Tues. 23 Feb. and Wed. 24 Feb., causing a mudslide near Bapo that blocked access to Qinlangdang. Even on Thurs. 25 Feb., skies were still grey, and despite the excellent weather on Fri. 26 Feb., the road to Qinlangdang was still blocked. We grit our teeth and birded on.

23 Feb. saw us note just 28 species, but among them were choice birds such as Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Golden-naped Finch, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, and Dark-rumped Rosefinch. We found Golden-naped Finch, the rosefinches, a few of our Fire-tailed Myzornis, and White-browed Fulvetta around Sibia Lane. This bird-rich spot on the Gongshan-Dulong Road has tall trees, rich undergrowth, and many birds, among them the Beautiful Sibia which are a constant presence there and for which the place is named. (For more information on Sibia Lane and other birding spots in Dulong Gorge, see List of Place Names near the bottom of this report.)

Golden-naped Finch was a major target for us. This female was photographed 23 Feb. at Sibia Lane.
Golden-naped Finch was a major target for us. This female was photographed 23 Feb. at Sibia Lane. (Craig Brelsford)

On 24 Feb. we noted 51 species despite the rain and despite doing all our birding within 12.5 km of Kongdang, our home base. One reason for our success was my re-discovery of Dulong Beach, a place I remembered from my 2014 visit and one of the few broad areas in that part of the Dulong Gorge. At Dulong Beach, one can park in a spacious parking area well off the narrow road, and it is possible to walk around. Great Cormorant roost on boulders studding the Dulong River, and occasionally a Mallard flies by; Himalayan Swiftlet can be seen in the corridor of sky framed by the gorge; Ashy Drongo and Striated Bulbul hawk insects high in the trees; White-naped Yuhina and Grey-cheeked Warbler browse in the trees; Golden Babbler join bird waves with Yellow-browed Tit, Rufous-capped Babbler, and Yellow-throated Fulvetta; and Chestnut-headed Tesia, Slaty-bellied Tesia, and Pygmy Cupwing call from the undergrowth.

Chestnut-headed Tesia, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016.
Chestnut-headed Tesia, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We also birded an even broader area, Pukawang, the resort 8 km north of Dulong Beach and 4.5 km south of Kongdang. There we found Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Large Niltava, Rufous-breasted Accentor, and Little Bunting using the now-barren gardens and fields. Little Forktail was in the Dandangwang River. We found Elliot’s Laughingthrush.

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was my Bird of the Trip. We recorded Tarsiger hyperythrus 44 times in Dulong Gorge, and only 1 of those records was of a female. I got this photo at Pukawang on 24 Feb.
For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was my Bird of the Trip. We recorded Tarsiger hyperythrus 44 times in Dulong Gorge, and only 1 of those records was of a female. I got this photo at Pukawang on 24 Feb. (Craig Brelsford)

25 Feb. saw us stymied in our quest for Qinlangdang by a mudslide at Bapo. We retraced our steps to Dulong Beach, where in a bird wave we found Black-throated Parrotbill. We had our first record of Grey-chinned Minivet, and at Pukawang we had our only record of Pied Bush Chat and only Dulong record of Eurasian Hoopoe. The next day saw splendid blue skies, but the still-blocked road meant we had to work the Gongshan-Dulong Road once again. There, we achieved stunning photos of the moon setting over the mountains, fresh with new snow. In the afternoon, we returned to Dulong Beach, where Brian spotted Black-crested Bulbul high on the ridge on the opposite side of the river.

RETURN TO QINLANGDANG

Beautiful Dulong Gorge between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016.
Beautiful Dulong Gorge between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Once the weather improved and the road crews cleared the road, we headed straight for Qinlangdang and the southern end of the gorge. We spent five of the next six days here: Sat. 27 Feb. through Mon. 29 Feb. and Wed. and Thurs. 2-3 March.

On 27 Feb., during the 43 km drive from Kongdang to Qinlangdang, we stopped at Dulong Beach. There we met Ān Kǎi Xiáng (安凯祥, “Steven An”), a tour guide whom I have met on several occasions, and Hóu Tǐ Guó (侯体国), the man famous for running the photo blinds at Baihualing. They were guiding Erik and Henning, two Danes and friends of Jesper Hornskov. Erik and Henning paid this writer a nice compliment: They had read my post on Week 1 of the Dulong trip! We chatted awhile and admired a Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. Also at Dulong Beach, we saw Crested Kingfisher flying rapidly up the river and found Scaly Laughingthrush.

Further down, we yet again heard Long-billed Wren-Babbler calling from thick undergrowth on the side of the road; try as I might, I could not coax the bird out, but I recorded its call (00:03; 922 KB):

Driving back, nearing dark we got a lifer for Brian and Elaine: Rufous-backed Sibia. I captured sound and an image of this impressive bird (00:35; 2.2 MB):

Rufous-backed Sibia, Dulong Gorge, elev. 1410 m, 27 Feb. 2016. In China, Heterophasia annectans annectans occurs in extreme W Yunnan.
Rufous-backed Sibia, Dulong Gorge, elev. 1410 m, 27 Feb. 2016. In China, Heterophasia annectans annectans occurs in extreme W Yunnan. (Craig Brelsford)

On the morning of 28 Feb., again near Qinlangdang, and after hours spent searching for Beautiful Nuthatch with no success, I heard dueling Spotted Elachura singing from either side of the Dulong River. Dilemma: (1) Study elachura, a sure thing, or (2) invest still more time in searching for Beaut Nut? Brian opted for Choice 2 and walked ahead. Elaine and I chose Option 1 and achieved an excellent recording of the strange song of Spotted Elachura plus my closest views ever of the species. Here is what I captured (01:17; 3.9 MB):

Brian, meanwhile, found Beaut Nut! He radioed us, but we arrived too late. Congrats, Brian! We also got Himalayan Cutia, a lifer for Brian.

Other great birds from 28 Feb.: Black-headed Shrike-babbler and Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, another encounter with that Long-billed Wren-Babbler on the side of the road, Scaly-breasted Cupwing, good views of Striated Laughingthrush, and new looks at Blue-winged Laughingthrush and Scaly Laughingthrush. We found 4 Zoothera birds, most likely Alpine/“Yunnan”/Himalayan Thrush, feeding along the pre-dawn road and looking like nightjars (Brian’s apt description) as they fled our car.

Himalayan Forest Thrush, Kongdang-Qinlangdang Road, 2 March 2016. Note the very dark subocular/moustachial area connected to the dark lores and the ill-defined dark spot on the ear coverts. These features allowed us to easily distinguish this bird from Alpine/'Yunnan' Thrush, members of the Plain-backed Thrush complex newly described by Per Alström and his colleagues.
Himalayan Thrush, Kongdang-Qinlangdang Road, 2 March 2016. Note the very dark subocular/moustachial area connected to the dark lores and the ill-defined dark spot on the ear coverts. These features allowed us to easily distinguish this bird from Alpine/’Yunnan’ Thrush, members of the Plain-backed Thrush complex newly described by Per Alström and his colleagues. For the story of my minor role in the discovery, please see this post. (Craig Brelsford)

29 Feb. saw us once again working the area around Qinlangdang. The terraced fields at the north entrance to the village are a good place for birds, yielding our only Dulong records of Hill Prinia, Slaty-backed Forktail, and Black Redstart as well as Blue-fronted Redstart and Olive-backed Pipit. At Brian’s nuthatch spot just north of town, relaxing in our parked car I got our only owl record of the trip: Asian Barred Owlet, calling unseen from the ravine on the opposite side of the river. In the morning, as we were driving to Qinlangdang we heard Brown-flanked Bush Warbler singing at Maku and at another place farther south.

Pickupful o' local folks at Dizhengdang, 1 March 2016.
Pickupful o’ local folks at Dizhengdang, 1 March 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

On 1 March we changed direction, heading north 31 km on the paved road to Dizhengdang. There, we revisited the extensive farmland north of town. Within a large flock of Little Bunting, Elaine and I picked out 3 Godlewski’s Bunting. Blue-winged Laughingthrush were using trees between two abandoned farmhouses, and we found Snow Pigeon and a smart male Hodgson’s Redstart. Brian went off on his own, finding White-throated Dipper. We drove through Xiongdang to the road being constructed north of that village. We took it to a point 9 km north of town, where a rockslide stopped us. We noted Mountain Hawk-Eagle here.

Incredible Ibisbill, 1 of 4 we found on the thundering Dulong River in Xiongdang. The vision and determination of Brian were instrumental in our finding this Himalayan wader. "The habitat is right; they must be here," Brian said repeatedly. On 1 March, Brian's hunch proved true.
Incredible Ibisbill, 1 of 4 we found on the thundering Dulong River in Xiongdang. The vision and determination of Brian were instrumental in our finding this Himalayan wader. ‘The habitat is right; they must be here,’ Brian said repeatedly. On 1 March, Brian’s hunch proved true. (Craig Brelsford)

Heading back, just north of Xiongdang, Brian, once again walking ahead, radioed us: “Ibisbill, flying downstream!” Brian deserves credit for insisting that this most unusual of waders would be on the Dulong. “The habitat is right; they must be here,” he said repeatedly. Now Brian had his reward, but what about Elaine and me? Would it be possible for us to get a view? It was up to me to guess where the Ibisbill had flown to. Zipping past Brian’s position, Elaine and I sped south in the Mitsubishi Pajero, splashing over a creek along the way. We approached the church in Xiongdang, and I said, “Let’s try here.” Elaine and I got out and, lo and behold, there were 4 Ibisbill along the rumbling stream below. Whew! Got ’em! Brian arrived, and we savored the view together.

Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler near Qinlangdang (elev. 1220 m), 2 March 2016.
Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler near Qinlangdang (elev. 1220 m), 2 March 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

On our two final full days in the gorge, 2-3 March, we dove back into the Qinlangdang area. We met Himalayan Thrush and Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush on the road, we had a strange encounter with an apparently lost Northern Lapwing, and we added Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike to our trip list. I achieved an excellent recording of the powerful song of tiny Scaly-breasted Cupwing (00:24; 1.7 MB):

We found several common birds that we had not noted before, among them Japanese Tit, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Chestnut Thrush. These late additions are an indication of the vastness of the forests and the long time it takes to get an accurate impression of the avifauna of this rich gorge.

BACK TO KUNMING

Fire-tailed Myzornis, Dulong Gorge, 26 Feb. 2016.
Fire-tailed Myzornis, Dulong Gorge, 26 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We took two full days to cover the 900 km between Kongdang and Kunming. On Fri. 4 March we spent the daylight hours driving the 90 km to Gongshan. We saw a massive flock of 300 Grandala, added Great Barbet to the trip list, heard Hill Partridge calling unseen, and noted Fire-tailed Myzornis and Golden-naped Finch. After refueling, we departed Gongshan at 17:15 and drove south on the S228. Along this amazing, narrow road, the lifeline for the dozens of communities along the Salween River, we saw folks taking sponge baths under the spigots along the road, saw people getting haircuts at open-air barber shops just inches from passing cars, and watched a drunken man nearly walk into the path of our car. Few roads are more interesting, or more dangerous, than the S228. Long after dark, we made it to Nujiang and pressed on, arriving exhausted at 01:15 in Wayaozhen, a town just a few kilometers north of the G56 freeway. Once again, we had made it through the Salween Gorge in good time, as before by driving mainly at night when traffic is less.

New birds came to us immediately the next morning: Red-vented Bulbul and Grey-breasted Prinia in the farm-garden area just across from Bababa Hotel, Grey Wagtail in a stream running between rows of houses, and White-browed Laughingthrush and Yellow-browed Warbler on the scrubby, partly forested hillside behind the hotel.

In western Yunnan, good birds can be found almost anywhere. In this unspectacular ravine overlooking the Mekong River, we noted Banded Bay Cuckoo, Grey-throated Babbler, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.
In western Yunnan, good birds can be found almost anywhere. In this unspectacular ravine overlooking the Mekong River, we noted Banded Bay Cuckoo, Grey-throated Babbler, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. (Craig Brelsford)

The grand finale, the fitting end to our profitable expedition, came later in the morning, less than a kilometer north of the G56. Driving on the G320 toward the freeway, I was scanning the hillside to our right and admiring the Mekong River to our left. I noticed a forested ravine that looked promising. Brian was game for a final hunt, and we set off into the unknown. Elaine stayed at the car, scanning the treetops with the spotting scope. Brian and I walked up the ravine until we could walk no more, then doubled back. Along the way we heard Slaty-bellied Tesia and saw Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. Brian picked up Grey-throated Babbler, a species we had noted in Dulong Gorge but that Brian had not seen well.

Brian went on ahead, and I stayed behind in the forest. Suddenly a Banded Bay Cuckoo appeared on a branch just 3 m from me, calling. This species is hard to find in China, has long been among my most desired of cuckoos, and was a lifer for me. I was without my camera, but I had my recorder and used it. In the recording, one notes the similarities and differences between the four-note call of Banded Bay and the well-known four-note call of Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus. The call of Banded Bay is a high-pitched whistle, whereas the call of Indian is fuller and throatier. Examine these recordings:

Banded Bay Cuckoo 1 (four-note whistle; 00:07, 1.1 MB)

Banded Bay Cuckoo 2 (rising call plus four-note whistle; 01:18, 3.9 MB)

I hustled down the hill to the car, roused Elaine and Brian, and took them up the hill. They both heard the call of Banded Bay Cuckoo. What a great addition to our list!

We took the G56 to Kunming Changshui International Airport, driving the last of the 2856 km that we logged on this trip. We spent the night in the strangely named but very clean Rainbow Interstellar Hotel (+86 871-65301666). On Sun. 6 March we flew home, Brian to Shenzhen, Elaine and I to Shanghai.

PRACTICALITIES

Main street in Kongdang, our base of operations in Dulong Gorge. Photo by Elaine Du.
Main street in Kongdang, our base of operations in Dulong Gorge. (Elaine Du)

In Kongdang we checked into Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn (独龙江大酒店; +86 886-3066888, +86 139-8868-5660, 168 yuan/night). The hotel is new and clean. Electric power is intermittent throughout the village, and because of the uncertain electricity it is prohibited to run the air-conditioning unit; our room was usually chilly as a result. Hot water is not guaranteed. In 2014 I stayed in Dàpíng Bīnguǎn (大平宾馆; +86 139-8869-6984; 100 yuan); it’s still there, but we decided to stay at Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn because it is newer.

Dulong Gorge has no service stations, and on a long trip it's impossible to carry enough extra fuel over the mountain from Gongshan. It is possible to buy fuel from unofficial local sellers. Here, Brian and I add gasoline purchased from a local fruit merchant. Photo by Elaine Du.
Dulong Gorge has no service stations, and on a long trip it’s impossible to carry enough extra fuel over the mountain from Gongshan. It is possible to buy fuel from unauthorized sellers. Here, Brian and I add gasoline purchased from a local fruit merchant. (Elaine Du)

We flew into and out of Kunming rather than Baoshan or Dali because of the wider selection of rental cars. We worked with the rental-car company Héxié Zūchē (和谐租车; +86 871-67085834, www.zuche01.com). Héxié rented us a brand-new, four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Pajero, the perfect car for our trip.

THE LIST

Simple List of Species of Bird Noted in Yunnan, China, 16 Feb. to 5 March 2016 (170 species)

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
gamebird sp.
Hill Partridge Arborophila torqueola
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
Mountain Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus nipalensis
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
Besra Accipiter virgatus
Himalayan Buzzard Buteo burmanicus
Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia
Snow Pigeon Columba leuconota
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis
Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii
Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris
Red-headed/Ward’s Trogon Harpactes erythrocephalus/wardi
Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Great Barbet Psilopogon virens
Golden-throated Barbet Psilopogon franklinii
Speckled Piculet Picumnus innominatus
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopos hyperythrus
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dryobates cathpharius
Darjeeling Woodpecker Dendrocopos darjellensis
Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hemipus picatus
Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus speciosus
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach tricolor
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus
White-bellied Erpornis Erpornis zantholeuca
Black-headed Shrike-babbler Pteruthius rufiventer
Blyth’s Shrike-babbler Pteruthius aeralatus
Black-eared Shrike-babbler Pteruthius melanotis
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
White-throated Fantail Rhipidura albicollis
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
Yellow-bellied Fantail Chelidorhynx hypoxanthus
Yellow-browed Tit Sylviparus modestus
Rufous-vented Tit Periparus rubidiventris*
Coal Tit Periparus ater
Grey Crested Tit Lophophanes dichrous
Japanese Tit Parus minor
Green-backed Tit Parus monticolus
Yellow-cheeked Tit Machlolophus spilonotus
Striated Bulbul Pycnonotus striatus
Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus flaviventris
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Brown-breasted Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthorrhous
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
Mountain Bulbul Ixos mcclellandii
Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Scaly-breasted Cupwing Pnoepyga albiventer
Pygmy Cupwing Pnoepyga pusilla
Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis
Black-faced Warbler Abroscopus schisticeps
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes
Slaty-bellied Tesia Tesia olivea
Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus
Black-browed Bushtit Aegithalos bonvaloti
Ashy-throated Warbler Phylloscopus maculipennis
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus
Blyth’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus reguloides
Sichuan Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus forresti
Grey-cheeked Warbler Phylloscopus poliogenys
Chestnut-crowned Warbler Phylloscopus castaniceps
Hill Prinia Prinia superciliaris
Rufescent Prinia Prinia rufescens
Grey-breasted Prinia Prinia hodgsonii
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis
Red-billed Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ochraceiceps
Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ferruginosus
Grey-throated Babbler Stachyris nigriceps
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps
Golden Babbler Stachyridopsis chrysaea
Yellow-throated Fulvetta Alcippe cinerea
Rufous-winged Fulvetta Alcippe castaneceps
Yunnan Fulvetta Alcippe fratercula
Long-billed Wren-Babbler Rimator malacoptilus
White-browed Laughingthrush Garrulax sannio
Striated Laughingthrush Garrulax striatus
Blue-winged Laughingthrush Trochalopteron squamatum
Scaly Laughingthrush Trochalopteron subunicolor
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii
Black-faced Laughingthrush Trochalopteron affine
Assam Laughingthrush Trochalopteron chrysopterum woodi
Himalayan Cutia Cutia nipalensis
Bar-throated Minla Minla strigula
Red-tailed Minla Minla ignotincta
Red-/Scarlet-faced Liocichla Liocichla phoenicea/ripponi
Rusty-fronted Barwing Actinodura egertoni
Streak-throated Barwing Actinodura waldeni
Silver-eared Mesia Leiothrix argentauris
Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea
Rufous-backed Sibia Heterophasia annectans
Beautiful Sibia Heterophasia pulchella
Fire-tailed Myzornis Myzornis pyrrhoura
Golden-breasted Fulvetta Lioparus chrysotis
White-browed Fulvetta Fulvetta vinipectus
parrotbill sp.
Black-throated Parrotbill Suthora nipalensis
White-naped Yuhina Yuhina bakeri
Whiskered Yuhina Yuhina flavicollis
Stripe-throated Yuhina Yuhina gularis
White-collared Yuhina Yuhina diademata
Black-chinned Yuhina Yuhina nigrimenta
Zosterops sp.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Chestnut-vented Nuthatch Sitta nagaensis
Beautiful Nuthatch Sitta formosa*
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Rusty-flanked Treecreeper Certhia nipalensis
Certhia sp.
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
Alpine/“YunnanThrush Zoothera mollissima
Himalayan Thrush Zoothera salimalii
Grandala Grandala coelicolor
Turdus sp.
Chestnut Thrush Turdus rubrocanus
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
Rufous-bellied Niltava Niltava sundara
Large Niltava Niltava grandis
Gould’s Shortwing Heteroxenicus stellatus
Rufous-breasted Bush Robin Tarsiger hyperythrus
Himalayan Bluetail Tarsiger rufilatus
Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri
Slaty-backed Forktail Enicurus schistaceus
White-crowned Forktail Enicurus leschenaulti
Blue Whistling Thrush Myophonus caeruleus eugenei
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher Ficedula strophiata
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros*
Hodgson’s Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni
White-throated Redstart Phoenicurus schisticeps
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis
Plumbeous Water Redstart Phoenicurus fuliginosus
White-capped Redstart Phoenicurus leucocephalus
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush Monticola rufiventris
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus
Pied Bush Chat Saxicola caprata
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus*
Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii
Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker Dicaeum ignipectus
Green-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga nipalensis
Black-throated Sunbird Aethopyga saturata
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris
Rufous-breasted Accentor Prunella strophiata
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni
Golden-naped Finch Pyrrhoplectes epauletta
Leucosticte sp.
Dark-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus edwardsii
Tibetan Serin Spinus thibetanus
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla

* noted by Brian Ivon Jones only

SELECTED MAMMALS

Stump-tailed Macaque
短尾猴 (duǎnwěi hóu)
Macaca arctoides

10 (troop) on Gongshan-Dulong Rd. (2730 m) on 2016-02-22

Turkestan Rat
拟家鼠 (nǐ jiāshǔ)
Rattus pyctoris

1 found dead on Gongshan-Dulong Rd. (2540 m) on 2016-03-04

Black Giant Squirrel
巨松鼠 (jù sōngshǔ)
Ratufa bicolor

1 between Kongdang & Qinlangdang (1500 m) on 2016-02-29

Gongshan Muntjac
贡山麂 (gòngshān jǐ)
Muntiacus gongshanensis

2 on Gongshan-Dulong Rd. (2300 m) on on 2016-02-22

PHOTOS

Dark-rumped Rosefinch, Sibia Lane, 23 Feb. 2016. Elev. 2260 m.
Dark-rumped Rosefinch, Sibia Lane, 23 Feb. 2016. Elev. 2260 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Golden Babbler, Dulong Beach, 24 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1460 m.
Golden Babbler, Dulong Beach, 24 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1460 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Black-throated Parrotbill, Dulong Beach, 25 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1460 m.
Black-throated Parrotbill, Dulong Beach, 25 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1460 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Streak-throated Barwing, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1460 m.
Streak-throated Barwing, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1460 m. (Craig Brelsford)
White-naped Finch near Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1420 m.
White-naped Yuhina near Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1420 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Speckled Piculet, Qinlangdang, 2 March 2016; also noted 28 Feb. at same place. Elev. 1220 m.
Speckled Piculet, Qinlangdang, 2 March 2016; also noted 28 Feb. at same place. Elev. 1220 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Grey-cheeked Warbler, Qinlangdang, 2 March 2016; also noted 29 Feb. at same place. Elev. 1220 m. Conspicuous teardrop eye-ring helps distinguish Grey-cheeked Warbler Seicercus poliogenys from White-spectacled Warbler S. affinis.
Grey-cheeked Warbler, Qinlangdang, 2 March 2016; also noted 29 Feb. at same place. Elev. 1220 m. Conspicuous teardrop eye-ring helps distinguish Grey-cheeked Warbler Seicercus poliogenys from White-spectacled Warbler S. affinis. (Craig Brelsford)
Hodgson's Redstart, Dizhengdang, 1 March 2016. We found this handsome male in open forest at the fringe of farmland.
Hodgson’s Redstart, Dizhengdang, 1 March 2016. We found this handsome male in open forest at the fringe of farmland. (Craig Brelsford)
Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Qinlangdang, 2 March 2016. Elev. 1220 m.
Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Qinlangdang, 2 March 2016. Elev. 1220 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Scaly-breasted Cupwing, Qinlangdang, 3 March 2016. Elev. 1220 m.
Scaly-breasted Cupwing, Qinlangdang, 3 March 2016. Elev. 1220 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Gongshan-Dulong Road (elev. 2040 m), 4 March 2016.
Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Gongshan-Dulong Road (elev. 2040 m), 4 March 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Qinlangdang, Dulong Gorge, 2 March 2016; also noted 5 March in ravine across G320 from Jīnliù Nóngjiā (金六农家). Like Gansu Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus kansuensis, this bird has a distinct pale rump, crown-stripe equally distinct throughout its length, and a postocular stripe that hooks downward posteriorly. The bird here has a darker base to the lower mandible than would likely be the case in P. kansuensis, making it highly probable that the bird is Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti.
Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Qinlangdang, Dulong Gorge, 2 March 2016; also noted 5 March in ravine across G320 from Jīnliù Nóngjiā (金六农家). Like Gansu Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus kansuensis, this bird has a distinct pale rump, crown-stripe equally distinct throughout its length, and a postocular stripe that hooks downward posteriorly. The bird here has a darker base to the lower mandible than would likely be the case in P. kansuensis, making it highly probable that the bird is Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti. (Craig Brelsford)
Craig Brelsford removing rocks from Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Craig Brelsford removing rocks from Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. (Elaine Du)
Elaine Du updating our bird list.
Elaine Du updating our bird list, Dizhengdang, 1 March 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Craig Brelsford celebrating after finding Golden-naped Finch, on bridge below Sibia Lane, 23 Feb. 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Craig Brelsford celebrating after finding Golden-naped Finch, on bridge below Sibia Lane, 23 Feb. 2016. (Elaine Du)

LIST OF PLACE NAMES

Location of Gongshan County (pink) and Nujiang Prefecture (yellow) within Yunnan, China. By Croquant (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Location of Gongshan County (pink) and Nujiang Prefecture (yellow) within Yunnan, China. By Croquant (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Baoshan (Bǎoshān Shì [保山市]): prefecture-level city W Yunnan.

Bapo (Bāpō Xīnzhài [巴坡新寨]; 27.737042, 98.350309): village 23 km S of Kongdang. Elev. 1390 m.

Burma: country SE Asia bordering Yunnan. Also known as Myanmar.

Cíkāi Zhèn: see Gongshan.

Dali (city) (Dàlǐ Shì [大理市]): county-level city in Dali Prefecture, NW Yunnan.

Dali (prefecture): (Dàlǐ Báizú Zìzhìzhōu [大理白族自治州]): prefecture NW Yunnan.

Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture: see Dali (prefecture).

Dandangwang River (Dāndāngwáng Hé [担当王河]): tributary of Dulong River. Confluence at Pukawang, 4.5 km S of Kongdang.

Dizhengdang (Dízhèngdāng [迪政当]; 28.079174, 98.325987): village Dulong Gorge 31 km N of Kongdang. Elev. 1850 m.

Dulong (ethnic group): indigenous people living in Dulong Gorge. Known in Chinese as Dúlóngzú (独龙族). At ca. 6000 members, the smallest of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China.

Dulong Beach (27.795076, 98.329884): birding area on scenic stretch of Dulong River 12.5 km S of Kongdang. Elev. 1460 m.

Dulong Gorge (Dúlóng Jiāng [独龙江]): canyon in Gongshan County, NW Yunnan bordering Tibet & Burma.

Dulong River (Dúlóng Jiāng [独龙江]): rises E Tibet, flows through Dulong Gorge into Burma, where it meets Mali River to form Irrawaddy River. Also known as N’Mai River.

Dulong River Road: see Gongshan-Dulong Road.

Dulong Valley: see Dulong Gorge.

Dulongjiang Township (Dúlóngjiāng Xiāng [独龙江乡]): all villages in Dulong Gorge fall under the jurisdiction of Dulongjiang Township, part of Gongshan County.

Dulongjiang Tunnel: part of Gongshan-Dulong Road; connects Salween & Irrawaddy basins. Elev. of E terminus: 2960 m. Elev. of W terminus: 2840 m.

Gaoligong Mountains (Gāolígòngshān [高黎贡山]): range running N-S 600 km from SE Tibet into W Yunnan & adjacent Kachin State in N Burma. Range divides Salween River & Irrawaddy River basins.

Gaoligongshan: see Gaoligong Mountains.

Gaoligongshan Dulongjiang Tunnel: see Dulongjiang Tunnel.

Gongshan (Gòngshān [贡山]; 27.741232, 98.665604): town NW Yunnan in Gongshan County. Also known as Cíkāi Zhèn (茨开镇). See also Gongshan County.

Gongshan County (Gòngshān Dúlóngzú Nùzú Zìzhìxiàn [贡山独龙族怒族自治县]): subdivision of Nujiang Prefecture in NW Yunnan. Contains Dulongjiang Township.

Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous County: see Gongshan County.

Gongshan-Dulong Road: road ca. 90 km connecting Gongshan & Dulong Gorge; also known as Dulong River Road (Dúlóng Jiāng Gōnglù [独龙江公路]).

Hēipǔ (黑普) Tunnel: tunnel in Gaoligong Mountains between Gongshan & Dulong Gorge. Once the main tunnel between Gongshan & Dulong Gorge; now largely superseded by Gaoligongshan Dulongjiang Tunnel.

Irrawaddy River: major river of Burma; a small part of Irrawaddy Basin lies in China (Dulong River).

Kongdang (Kǒngdāng Cūn [孔当村]; 27.874454, 98.336630): village Dulong Gorge 87 km W of Gongshan on Gongshan-Dulong Road. Also known as Kongmu (Kǒngmù [孔目]). Elev. 1490 m.

Kongmu: see Kongdang.

Kunming (Kūnmíng [昆明]): capital of & largest city in Yunnan, in the EC part of the province. A prefecture-level city.

Kunming Changshui International Airport (Kūnmíng Chángshuǐ Guójì Jīchǎng [昆明长水国际机场]; 25.101330, 102.934924): primary airport serving Kunming, lying 24.5 km NE of city center.

Lancang River: see Mekong River.

Maku (Mǎkù Cūn [马库村]): hamlet Dulong Gorge 37 km S of Kongdang and 6 km N of Qinlangdang. Elev. 1570 m.

Mekong River: river rising on Tibetan Plateau & flowing through Yunnan to Southeast Asia. In Yunnan often referred to as Lancang River (Láncāng Jiāng [澜沧江]).

Myanmar: see Burma.

N’Mai River: see Dulong River.

Map of Nujiang Prefecture, Yunnan, China. Area 3 is Gongshan County. By Maggern87 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Map of Nujiang Prefecture, Yunnan, China. Area 3 is Gongshan County. By Maggern87 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Nujiang (Nùjiāng Lìsùzú Zìzhìzhōu [怒江傈僳族自治州]): prefecture NW Yunnan, containing Gongshan County & Dulongjiang Township.

Nujiang River: see Salween River.

Pukawang (Pǔkǎwàng [普卡旺]; 27.839581, 98.327779), resort in Dulong Gorge 4.5 km S of Kongdang. Site of confluence of Dandangwang River & Dulong River. Elev. 1480 m.

Qinlangdang (Qīnlángdāng [钦郎当]; 27.686833, 98.283097): village Dulong Gorge 43 km S of Kongdang. Elev. 1220 m.

Salween-Irrawaddy Drainage Divide: the ridgeline of the Gaoligong Mountains separates the Salween & Irrawaddy basins.

Salween River (Nùjiāng [怒江]): river rising on Tibetan Plateau, flowing through W Yunnan & into Burma, & emptying into Andaman Sea.

Sibia Lane (27.909517, 98.410674): birding area on Gongshan-Dulong Road with many tall trees. So named because Beautiful Sibia are abundant there. Area extends ca. 1.5 km from bridge crossing large stream E toward Dulongjiang Tunnel.

Wayaozhen (Wǎyáozhèn [瓦窑镇]; 25.445260, 99.263076), town in Baoshan, Yunnan. Elev. 1310 m.

Xiongdang (Xióngdāng Cūn [雄当村]; 28.106766, 98.322952): village Dulong Gorge 35 km N of Kongdang & 4 km N of Dizhengdang. Elev. 1850 m.

Yunnan (Yúnnán Shěng [云南省]): province SW China. Area: 394,000 sq. km. Area (comparative): slightly smaller than Sweden & California; slightly larger than Japan. Pop.: 45.7 million.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Grimmett, R., Inskipp, C. & Inskipp, T. 2011. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, London. Behind Robson and MacKinnon, our third reference in Dulong Gorge; consulted often.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Our second reference in Dulong Gorge, after Robson; consulted often.

Oriental Bird Club. Oriental Bird Images. orientalbirdimages.org

Robson, C. 2005. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA. Our first reference in Dulong Gorge and western Yunnan.

Smith, Andrew T. and Yan Xie, eds. Mammals of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA. Our first reference for mammals in China.

Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World. xeno-canto.org. Craig has downloaded hundreds of calls from this Web site.

Featured image: The sublime spectacle of the moon setting over the Gaoligong Mountains at dawn was our reward for enduring days and days of rain. Photo taken on Gongshan-Dulong Road near Kongdang on 26 Feb. 2016. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/9, 1/320, ISO 640. (Craig Brelsford)

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Rare Breeding Record of Great Grey Owl in China

Last July, Elaine and I spent two weeks covering the vast Hulunbeier region of Inner Mongolia with Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. On our very first day (11 July 2015), we had a rare breeding record of Great Grey Owl. We found the owls at 49.501528, 121.364934. The story below comes from Elaine’s and my report, Inner Mongolia & Heilongjiang, 2015:

“As we were driving, we saw, far in the distance atop a billboard, a Great Grey Owl. As I stepped out of the car to admire it, a car came from the opposite direction and scared it away. We sighed, drove to the billboard, and parked. Would the owl come back? No. But something interesting occurred. From somewhere in the forest came begging calls, which I recorded (00:08; 1.1 MB):

“Those are clearly the begging calls of a juvenile Great Grey Owl. A breeding record! That is good news, though not wholly unexpected. Though ‘very rare in China’ (MacKinnon), Strix nebulosa lapponica has one stronghold in this country, and that is the Greater Khingan Range of Hulunbeier–a fact known to the birders who find the species here each year (usually in winter). What’s more, next to us was ideal Great Grey Owl habitat, being ‘dense boreal or coniferous forest … with openings,’ as Handbook of the Birds of the World describes it–again, no surprise, as the forest next to which we were standing is known to hold Great Grey Owl and other owls. Why, then, is a breeding record important? A breeding record matters because it confirms that at least some of the Great Grey Owl in the region are not simply wandering to Hulunbeier in the winter but are using the area year-round.”

Why am I posting this news now? For months, the recording of the begging calls lay in my computer, inert. Recently, reviewing the events of July 2015, I happened upon the recording. I remember Jan-Erik mentioning, way back in July, that we may have a breeding record of Strix nebulosa. But we got busy and never followed up, and so only now can we report this interesting record.

The report from which this post was derived, Inner Mongolia & Heilongjiang, 2015, is just one of many richly illustrated, useful reports on the shanghaibirding.com Explorations page. Plan your big China trip, learn about birding, or just sit back and enjoy our accounts of our birding expeditions in China. We are adding more and more of my sound recordings to the reports for a true multimedia experience. You’ll love Explorations!

Featured image: L-R: Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, and Jan-Erik Nilsén, on the S301 between Genhe and Labudalin, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, China, 19 July 2015.

Dulong Gorge, Yunnan: The First Week

Editor’s note: For “Dulong Gorge, Yunnan: Part 2,” the second in this two-part series on birding Dulong Gorge, please click here.

A week in Yunnan is under our belt, and Dulong Gorge is yielding amazing Himalayan specialties. Among the species noted by us so far are Fire-tailed Myzornis, Grandala, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Striated Laughingthrush, and Assam Laughingthrush as well as Gongshan Muntjac. We have noted western Yunnan favorites Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Beautiful Sibia, Rusty-fronted Barwing, and Streak-throated Barwing. We have heard the mournful whistle of Hill Partridge, found a flock of 140 Tibetan Serin, noted Goldcrest in a mixed flock at 2960 m, and discovered 4 Eurasian Teal looking out of place on the Dulong River. Also using the river are Common Merganser, Great Cormorant, Crested Kingfisher, and Brown Dipper. Crimson-breasted Woodpecker was a lifer for us, and Wallcreeper delighted us all. We noted a troop of Stump-tailed Macaque.

Fire-tailed Myzornis, Dulong River Gorge, Yunnan, 20 Feb. 2016.
Fire-tailed Myzornis, Dulong River Gorge, Yunnan, 20 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

HOW WE GOT TO DULONG GORGE

To reach this remote valley, on Tues. 16 Feb. Elaine, our partner Brian Ivon Jones, and I drove non-stop from Kunming Changshui International Airport to Gongshan, a grueling twelve-and-a-half hour, 814-km ride. Brian, an Englishman living in Shenzhen, is the person who first gave me the idea of visiting the Dulong Gorge; this is my fourth birding trip with him. From Kunming we took the G56 to the G320 and S228 north of Baoshan. We drove the narrow S228 at night because we guessed that traffic in the dozens of towns along the Salween River would be less. We were right. At 03:15 Wednesday we arrived exhausted but in good spirits at Gongshan.

On Wednesday morning 17 Feb., we stocked up on food and fuel at Gongshan. We filled the tank of our rented Mitsubishi Pajero and, after applying for a permit with the local government, filled a 30-liter tank with gasoline. The 30-liter tank would be our extra source of fuel, for there are no gas stations in the Dulong Gorge.

Our rented Mitsubishi Pajero near grocery store in Gongshan, Yunnan, 17 Feb. 2016. We rented this brand-new vehicle at Kunming Changshui International Airport through the rental-car company Héxié Zūchē (和谐租车). It was the perfect car for our trip.
Our rented Mitsubishi Pajero near grocery store in Gongshan, Yunnan, 17 Feb. 2016. We rented this brand-new vehicle at Kunming Changshui International Airport through the rental-car company Héxié Zūchē (和谐租车). It was the perfect car for our trip. (Craig Brelsford)

We birded the Gongshan-Dulong Road 87 km to Kongdang. On the Gongshan side, still in the Salween basin, we noted our first of many Ashy-throated Warbler, Yellow-browed Tit, Whiskered Yuhina, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, and Green-tailed Sunbird. A bird wave at elev. 1980 m gave us views of less-common birds such as Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Grey Crested Tit, and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. At a scenic overlook at 2450 m, we found a stunning male Blue-fronted Redstart. At about 2600 m, we began to notice snow on the ground. At 2960 m, near the eastern terminus of the Dulongjiang Tunnel, with snow lying deep all around us, a bird wave passed. It contained Coal Tit as well as our first Rusty-flanked Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

Eastern terminus of new Dulongjiang Tunnel above Dulong River Gorge, Yunnan. Elev. 2960 m. 17 Feb. 2016.
Eastern terminus of new Dulongjiang Tunnel above Dulong River Gorge, Yunnan. Elev. 2960 m. 17 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

On the other side of the tunnel, at elev. 2260 m, we noted Darjeeling Woodpecker and Beautiful Sibia at a stretch of road I call “Sibia Lane.” I never fail to find Beautiful Sibia there. At the bridge below we found Yellow-browed Tit and a flock of Black-faced Warbler.

In Kongdang, the administrative center of the Dulong Gorge, I found a town much different from the one I met during my first trip here in June 2014. Bridges are being built, a row of new hotels and restaurants has arisen, and a gas station is under construction. Despite the progress, this valley still feels like a land that time forgot. Some Dulong people keep the tradition of animal sacrifice, and we have seen two old women with tattooed faces.

DULONG GORGE FROM END TO END

Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopos cathpharius, Dulong River Gorge, 18 Feb. 2016.
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dryobates cathpharius, Dulong River Gorge, 18 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday exploring the areas south, north, and east of Kongdang. On Thurs. 18 Feb. we drove to Qinlangdang, the village at the southern terminus of the Dulong Gorge road and the last stop before the China-Burma border. We noted 45 species and covered elevations ranging from 1220 m at Qinlangdang to 1570 m along the cliffs north of that village. Great Cormorant and Crested Kingfisher were a surprise. An impressive bird wave just south of town netted us many trip firsts, among them Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Niltava, and Silver-eared Mesia. At stops along the road we found Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, a lifer for all of us, as well as Golden-throated Barbet, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Rusty-fronted Barwing, and Alpine Accentor.

On Fri. 19 Feb. we headed north. We easily found Wallcreeper, and in the heavily forested opposite bank of the river we heard the harsh cries of Striated Laughingthrush. As we drove, we scanned the river carefully, particularly the calm spots. At one such spot we found 4 Eurasian Teal. They were not feeding and must have been using the gorge as a conduit to more suitable waters. South of Xiongdang, conifers and other alpine flora begin to predominate, and the landscape looks profoundly different from the lusher, warmer areas around Qinlangdang. We found a scree slope far above us and, using my spotting scope, I pulled in a flock of 8 Grandala.

Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Elaine Du viewing Grandala for the first time, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016.
Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Elaine Du viewing Grandala for the first time, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Dizhengdang occupies one of the broadest areas we have seen in the Dulong Valley and is an excellent place for birding. At the fringes of the farmland are scrubby areas that hold many species and will surely hold more come spring, and there is a collection of abandoned farmhouses and adjacent gardens that will be nicely overgrown a few months from now. We finally were able to leave the car here and walk around. We picked up many trip firsts, among them Himalayan Buzzard, Snow Pigeon, Grey-backed Shrike, Black-browed Bushtit, and White-throated Redstart. We drove north to the village of Xiongdang. We drove past the church in Xiongdang on a dirt road that is soon to be a paved highway to Tibet. We stopped 3 km north of the village. As it was late afternoon and because the road was getting rougher, we decided to turn back. We noted Common Merganser and Brown Dipper, and as we approached Xiongdang again we encountered another Wallcreeper.

Eurasian Teal in Dulong River, 19 Feb. 2016.
Eurasian Teal in Dulong River, 19 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Sat. 20 Feb. saw us head back up the Gongshan-Dulong Road. We birded an elevation range of 1350 m, from 1490 m in Kongdang to 2840 m at the snowy western terminus of the Dulongjiang Tunnel. Elaine saw a bird that had to be either Ward’s or Red-headed Trogon, and we heard the cries of Hill Partridge on the ridges above us. At Sibia Lane, elev. 2260 m, Elaine cried out, “Myzornis!” Brian and I came running and found a pair of this quintessential Himalayan bird. A pair gave us clear views before retiring into the undergrowth, and we found another pair nearby. The beautiful, emerald-green cross between parrotbill and babbler was a lifer for Elaine and Brian. I had seen the species in 2014. I said to my fellows, “Before this expedition, it was My-zornis. Now it’s Your-zornis, too!”

Striated Laughingthrush and Assam Laughingthrush were hard-won ticks. A flock of 4 of the former appeared screaming above us on the Gongshan-Dulong Road. The fig tree on which they were feeding was directly above us, 25 m high. I leaned back and took record shots, set down my camera, and recorded the harsh cries before a car came and forced me to pause. Later, examining the photos and listening carefully to my recording, we were able to get the ID. Here is the recording I made of Striated Laughingthrush (00:08; 1.1 MB):

The Assam was almost as tricky. Walking along the road, I scared off a single laughingthrush. As Black-faced Laughingthrush has been the most commonly seen laugher so far, I played back a recording of that species to see whether I would get a response. The Assam called back from cover. It was obviously not a Black-faced, but what was it? The bird alighted very briefly on a backlit branch, a silhouette against the sky; this allowed me to determine its size and nothing more. But I had recorded the call, and comparisons to Assam recordings I have downloaded from xeno-canto.org allowed me to make the ID. Here is my recording of the brief call (00:03; 905 KB):

On Sun. 21 Feb. it rained all day and we did no birding. In Kongdang electricity was out for most of the day, and even the cell-phone signal died. We took advantage of the down time to sleep.

Gongshan Muntjac, Gongshan-Dulong Road, elev. 2300 m. 22 Feb. 2016.
Gongshan Muntjac, Gongshan-Dulong Road, elev. 2300 m. 22 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Mon. 22 Feb. saw us redo our route to the Dulongjiang Tunnel and back. The big find of the day was not a bird at all but the mysterious Gongshan Muntjac. We were at the large clearing at 2300 m on the Gongshan-Dulong Road. I had just recorded a lively pair of Bay Woodpecker and was walking back toward the car and Brian. My partner was looking at a dark spot below us on the road. Brian and I aimed to shoot, and I found to my horror that the ultra-high humidity of the gorge had compromised the focusing mechanism on my lens. I had to focus manually, and by that time the muntjac had turned its back to us. Brian captured the earlier moment when the deer was still facing us; I could only get photos of it looking away. The diminutive, rare deer scurried under the guardrail to cover. We walked downhill to the point where it had stood. Above us, we heard a sound like a man imitating a dog barking. Muntjacs are also known as “barking deer”; now we knew why. We believe we photographed a doe and that the buck was barking from cover. So little is known about Muntiacus gongshanensis that IUCN lists it not as endangered or near threatened but as “data deficient.” Almost all photos taken of the species have been done by camera traps. We have photos of an animal that we saw. I also recorded the barking (00:19; 1.6 MB):

The other mammalian highlight was Stump-tailed Macaque. Walking along the road, I noticed rustling in the bamboo far down slope. At first I thought I had startled a herd of small deer. I got this impression because the animals were on the ground and were on all fours. I was able to determine that the animals were macaques. I noted a bare face and nub of a tail. We estimate the troop contained about 10 individuals.

Alpine/"Yunnan" Thrush, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016.
Alpine/’Yunnan’ Thrush, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Amid these glories, the birding was not bad at all! We added these species to the trip list: Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Bar-throated Minla, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, White-browed Fulvetta, Himalayan Bluetail, Rufous-breasted Accentor, and the recently re-described Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush. Elaine, who is familiar with the Zoothera thrushes because of my keen interest in this genus, radioed me: “Himalayan Thrush!” I ran back and just managed to capture record shots. The bird I photographed has the dark ear coverts, yellow base of lower mandible, and yellow legs that distinguish Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush from Himalayan Thrush. Thank you for alerting me, Elaine!

Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Dulong Gorge, 18 Feb. 2016. This photo records the moment I first laid eyes on this beautiful Himalayan species.
Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Dulong Gorge, 18 Feb. 2016. This photo records the moment I first laid eyes on this beautiful Himalayan species. (Craig Brelsford)

Other big news: 290 Grandala in two flocks, an impressive 168 Tibetan Serin, a Fire-tailed Myzornis whose loud calls caused us to stop the car to look, and yet more welcome encounters with Rusty-flanked Treecreeper and Rufous-breasted Bush Robin.

PRACTICALITIES

In Kongdang we checked into Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn (独龙江大酒店; +86 886-3066888, +86 139-8868-5660, 168 yuan/night). The hotel is new and clean. Electric power is intermittent throughout the village, and because of the uncertain electricity it is prohibited to run the air-conditioning unit; our room was usually chilly as a result. Hot water is not guaranteed. In 2014 I stayed in Dàpíng Bīnguǎn (大平宾馆; +86 139-8869-6984 100 yuan); it’s still there, but we decided to stay at Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn because it is newer.

We flew into Kunming rather than Baoshan or Dali because of the wider selection of rental cars. We worked with the rental-car company Héxié Zūchē (和谐租车; +86 871-67085834, www.zuche01.com). Héxié rented us a brand-new, four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Pajero, the perfect car for our trip.

PHOTOS

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker above Gongshan, 17 Feb. 2016.
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker above Gongshan, 17 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Wallcreeper, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016.
Wallcreeper, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Grandala roosting in tree along Gongshan-Dulong Road, Dulong Gorge, Yunnan, 22 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

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Come Walk with Us at Nanhui

On Fri. 5 Feb. and Mon. 8 Feb., Elaine Du, Kai Pflug, and I noted 64 species on a two-day “Nanhui on Foot” tour. Horned Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, and Greater Scaup maintained their presence on Dishui Lake, and on Friday we picked out a single Black-faced Spoonbill among the Eurasian Spoonbill. On Monday we noted Water/Brown-cheeked Rail, saw a flock of 240 Kentish Plover and 900 Dunlin, and enjoyed an early morning moment with four bunting species (mainly Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Little Bunting with cameos by Chestnut-eared Bunting and Black-faced Bunting). We struggled to ID our Pallas’s Reed Bunting to ssp. level. Were the mysterious lydiae mixed in?

The interval of 72 hours between Friday and Monday saw changes to the composition of birds on Dishui Lake. Counts of Falcated Duck went from 230 on Friday to 0 on Monday. Horned Grebe and Greater Scaup also fell off our Monday list. Numbers of Tufted Duck, meanwhile, increased from 22 to 140. Common Pochard saw a jump from 0 on Friday to 300 on Monday, but we found them on the pond behind the Magic Parking Lot, which we were unable to check Friday.

"Kai

For maximum efficiency, we distributed duties among our trio. Elaine kept records and scanned the ponds with our Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. Kai handled photography, lovingly wielding his Nikon D810 and 400 mm F2.8 lens with 2x teleconverter. I served as chief ornithologist and scope-bearer. We walked 19 km each day.

Hen Harrier (L) and Pied Harrier, Nanhui, Monday. Both are adult females. A conspicuous white rump is a feature of both Circus cyaneus and C. melanoleucos. Note however the more evenly banded tail of the former and the more contrasting upperparts of the latter. Both by Kai Pflug.
Hen Harrier (L) and Pied Harrier, Nanhui, Monday. Both are adult females. A conspicuous white rump is a feature of both Circus cyaneus and C. melanoleucos. Note however the more evenly banded tail of the former and the more contrasting upperparts of the latter. (Kai Pflug)

From Puxi we took Metro Line 2 to Longyang Road, where we transferred to Line 16. We exited Line 16 at Dishui Lake station and took a taxi to Microforest 2 (30.926051, 121.970781), where we began birding. On Friday, we walked all the way back to the Dishui Lake station, and on Monday, we took the bus to Dishui Lake station from the stop behind the Magic Parking Lot.

Reed Parrotbill were noted both days around Microforest 2. We had Naumann’s Thrush on Friday. As was the case last year, Eastern Yellow Wagtail (tschutschensis and taivana) have been present in Shanghai in small numbers throughout the winter.

Horned Grebe has had a sustained presence on Dishui Lake for at least the past 60 days. Also known as Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus is thought to be a rare winter visitor to our area, but it may be overlooked.

PHOTOS

"Horned

With the polluted Shanghai air acting as a filter, the morning sunlight kisses this Little Bunting ever so softly, helping photographer Kai Pflug achieve this masterful image.
With the polluted Shanghai air acting as a filter, the morning sunlight kisses this Little Bunting ever so softly, helping photographer Kai Pflug achieve this masterful image. (Kai Pflug)

Featured image: Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi, Microforest 2, Nanhui, 8 Feb. 2016. The thinness of the upper mandible of this specimen raises the question: Could this be E. p. lydiae? (Kai Pflug)

A Minor Role in a Major Discovery

Now my involvement in the discovery of Himalayan Thrush was on this wise:

In June 2014, my partners and I drove 36 hours, including one stretch of 24 straight hours, covering 1500 km (930 mi.) to get from Emeishan in Sichuan to the Dulong Gorge in Yunnan. The reason? Per Alström was in the Dulong Gorge and was working on an exciting project, a project to which he said I might be able to make a small contribution.

Himalayan Thrush
Himalayan Thrush Zoothera salimalii, Irrawaddy-Salween Divide, above Dulong Gorge, Yunnan, 20 June 2014. Elev. 3380 m (11,090 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

We finally met up with Per and his team on the road into the Dulong Gorge. There, Per transferred to me a recording of a species new to science, Himalayan Thrush Zoothera salimalii.

Little did I know that I was on the cusp of something big.

At the time, I did not know that the species was Himalayan Thrush; like any normal birder, I took the species to be Plain-backed Thrush. Per could only divulge that he was working on possible splits to Plain-backed Thrush, and could I please try to get a shot of a free “Plain-backed”? All his images, he said, were of captured birds, and he wanted shots of birds living their natural life. “I’ll do everything I can to get those photos!” I said. Per then left the Dulong Gorge, and my team entered the valley.

Himalayan Thrush
Himalayan Thrush. Note the very slightly rufous-toned upper surface, dark lower lores and subocular/moustachial area, lack of distinct dark patch on rear ear-coverts, entirely dark lower mandible, hooked upper mandible, and pale, pinkish legs. (Craig Brelsford)

Rain rain rain for days. Finally, a 45-minute window of dry weather. I’m at the spot Per indicated, elev. 3380 m (11,090 ft.). I play Per’s recording. Attracted by the recording, a Himalayan Thrush appears within minutes, and I get photos as well as recordings of the thrush’s song. What a payoff!

Now my photos figure in the article Per and his co-authors have written on Himalayan Thrush, Sichuan Thrush Zoothera griseiceps, and Alpine Thrush Z. mollissima (Z. mollissima was formerly called “Plain-backed Thrush” in English but in the wake of the new discoveries takes the name Alpine Thrush). Himalayan Thrush is completely new to science, and Sichuan Thrush has been elevated to species status (having been considered a ssp. of Z. mollissima). A fourth putative taxon, “Yunnan Thrush,” requires further study.

I’m proud to have played a minor role in Per and co.’s major discovery!

Himalayan Thrush
Himalayan Thrush on a wet boulder in the rain above Dulong Gorge. A ‘forest’ thrush on a rocky outcrop? Yes, write the authors: ‘At Dulongjiang, Yunnan province, China, we found Himalayan Forest Thrush to be numerous in a very different habitat: on steep slopes with bamboo and rhododendron scrub and rocky outcrops and a few scattered conifers, at or just above the upper tree limit, at 3350–3500 m a.s.l. … Surprisingly, we did not observe any birds in the seemingly suitable forest immediately below despite active searching.’ (Craig Brelsford)

WHAT IS ‘NEW TO SCIENCE’?

In the case of Zoothera salimalii, when we say the species is “new to science,” we are not saying that no human being had ever seen the bird before. Himalayan Thrush is locally common in its range, which extends from Sikkim in India to northwest Yunnan; thousands of birders and non-birders have seen it. “New to science” means that those observers did not understand its true nature. We did not understand that it is a species; if we thought about it at all, we assumed that any Z. salimalii we were seeing was just another Plain-backed Thrush Z. mollissima.

Himalayan
From article: ‘Z. salimalii has a narrow, almost unmarked golden-buff throat (whiter when worn) bordered by strong black malar.’ Note our specimen’s buff throat and distinct malar. (Craig Brelsford)

Per and his team discovered that, hidden within what was considered to be a population of Z. mollissima was an entirely different bird, separated from Z. mollissima by time (3-5 million years of evolution), habitat (Z. mollissima Alpine Thrush breeds higher than Z. salimalii Himalayan Thrush), song, and morphology.

The latter two characteristics are particularly surprising and point to the difficulties of birding in the Himalayan region. Per and his team did not need a microscope to begin to see that Himalayan Thrush is different from the other species in the Plain-backed Thrush complex. All they needed to do was look and listen closely. Yet for generation after generation, this straightforward analysis was not performed. This is not surprising, considering the ruggedness of the area in which these thrushes live and its sparse population.

Himalayan Thrush
My Himalayan Thrush was fit and strong—as he needed to be, if he wanted to command his large, rocky territory. (Craig Brelsford)

Once Per had examined Plain-backed complex birds in the hand and through photos, he found a whole series of visible differences. Per et al. write:

Compared to Z. mollissima, Z. salimalii has a noticeably longer and deeper bill, with more arched culmen and longer hook, and the lower edge of the lower mandible is more arched (vs. straight); bill usually completely or almost completely dark including base of lower mandible, whereas the base of the lower mandible is usually pale pinkish or yellowish in Z. mollissima (though may appear mainly dark also in Z. mollissima).

Most individuals of Z. salimalii have a thin whitish supraloral stripe over thick blackish lores, and a very dark subocular/moustachial area, more or less connected to the dark lores, compared to more diffuse pale supraloral and weak “salt-and-pepper” lores and subocular/moustachial area of Z. mollissima. Also, Z. salimalii usually shows less extensively pale-mottled ear-coverts than in Z. mollissima, especially on the upper part, and lacks or has only a very ill-defined dark spot on the rear ear-coverts, while Z. mollissima usually shows a distinct dark rear ear-covert patch. Z. salimalii is usually ruddier in color above than Z. mollissima. Z. salimalii has a narrow, almost unmarked golden-buff throat (whiter when worn) bordered by strong black malar, while in Z. mollissima the throat is usually whiter and generally more heavily marked (often much more so) and less strongly bordered by more diffuse malar stripes. Z. salimalii has the claws paler than the toes, lacking dusky areas, while in Z. mollissima the claws are at least partly darker than or similar in color to the toes. The legs of Z. salimalii are pinkish, while those of Z. mollissima are usually brighter and more yellow- or orange-tinged.

Himalayan Thrush
Himalayan Thrush, Baihualing, Yunnan, 4 Feb. 2014. Baihualing is in the southern part of the Gaoligong Mountains. The elevation here is ca. 1800 m (5,900 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

So adept became Per at discerning the morphological differences of the various Plain-backed species, he was able to determine, by photos alone, that a “Plain-backed” I had found in Yunnan in February 2014 was also Himalayan Thrush. Per used my February 2014 photos along with my June 2014 photos in his article.

The song of Z. salimalii also contrasts markedly with that of Z. mollissima, Per et al. write. They note the “mainly rasping, grating, scratchy, cracked voice” of Alpine Thrush and the “more musical … ‘thrush-like'” song of Himalayan Thrush. Indeed, according to the article, the germ of the process that led to the discovery of Himalayan Thrush was Per standing in India and simply listening to Himalayan Thrush, remembering the similar song he’d earlier heard in Sichuan of what is now called Sichuan Thrush, and contrasting those sweeter songs with the scratchier song of Alpine Thrush. Here we see Per, the scientist famous for discovering new species according to complicated DNA research, relying not on microscopes but on good old-fashioned birding skills!

Himalayan Thrush
Himalayan Thrush powerfully shovels away dirt, leaves, and sticks as it searches for invertebrates on the forest floor. (Craig Brelsford)

Below, some of my recordings and videos of Himalayan Thrush.

Sound Recordings, by Craig Brelsford

Video (all taken by Craig Brelsford at Baihualing, Gaoligong Mountains, western Yunnan, 4-5 Feb. 2014)

Featured image: Craig Brelsford (L), Craig’s partner Jon Gallagher, and Per Alström (R), above the Dulong Gorge in remote northwestern Yunnan, 13 June 2014. The insets show Himalayan Thrush Zoothera salimalii, which Per was there studying, and photos of which I later acquired. (Huáng Xiǎo Ān [黄小安])

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The Crane and the Owl: 2015 Year in Review

For Elaine and me, 2015 was the Year of the Crane and the Owl. This post is the story of our amazing year.

2015 was a year that saw us note 640 species of bird in Asia and North America. It was a year that saw us find 450 species in China, 305 species in the Shanghai region, and 227 species within the boundaries of Earth’s largest city.

It was a year in which, on 21 Jan., Elaine and I got married in the house in Heilongjiang in which she was born.

Days after our wedding, at my parents’ house in Florida in the United States, a pair of Sandhill Crane walked through my parents’ back yard. Throughout our weeks in Florida, they came again and again; the cranes are part of a non-migratory flock that is both fully wild and completely at home in suburban central Florida. No one disturbs them.

Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis, DeBary, Florida, 31 Jan. 2015. These cranes are fully wild yet completely accustomed to life in suburbia. No one disturbs them.
Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis, Debary, Florida. These cranes are fully wild yet completely accustomed to life in suburbia. No one disturbs them.

Elaine was astonished. To her, the cranes came to symbolize all that is good about birding in America.

In August, Elaine and I returned to her home in Heilongjiang. A pair of Eurasian Eagle-Owl came to her village night after night. They hooted from the rooftops of the farm buildings that Elaine’s father built. We saw the owls by day, at the nearby quarry where they had nested.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo at the quarry near Elaine's house in Dawucun, Heilongjiang. Night after night, the hoot of these owls was heard in Elaine's village.
Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo at the quarry near Elaine’s house in Dawucun, Heilongjiang. Night after night, the hoot of these owls was heard in Elaine’s village.

I was astonished. To me, the eagle-owls came to symbolize all that is good about birding in Asia.

In the year in which we were married, Elaine and I visited each other’s hometowns for the first time. At my home, cranes; at Elaine’s, eagle-owls. Forevermore, 2015 will be remembered for the powerful birds that visited our homes. In the Brelsford house, 2015 will go down as the Year of the Crane and the Owl.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, one of many species of bird using my parents' back yard in suburban central Florida, USA.
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, one of many species of bird using my parents’ back yard in suburban central Florida, USA.

WHERE DID WE GO IN 2015?

In China, Elaine and I stayed in the east, taking two major trips to Heilongjiang and neighboring Hulunbeier (Inner Mongolia), two trips to Emeifeng in Fujian, and an eventful five-day trip to Guangxi. We also spent a week in Beijing and Hebei. We birded with Jan-Erik Nilsén, Brian Ivon Jones, and Michael Grunwell, fine birders all.

Michael Grunwell at Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015. A birder as enthusiastic as he is knowledgeable, Michael was our major birding partner in 2015. We went thousands of kilometers together, traveling by air, train, car, and foot to birding locations in five provinces. A teacher by profession, Michael freely distributes his bird knowledge, built up over four decades. Michael introduced us to Emeifeng and proposed the Nonggang Babbler trip. We, in turn, had the pleasure of showing Michael various sites in the Shanghai region after Michael and his family moved to Shanghai from Nanchang in August 2015.
Michael Grunwell at Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015. A birder as enthusiastic as he is knowledgeable, Michael was our major birding partner in 2015. We went thousands of kilometers together, traveling by air, train, car, and foot to birding locations in five provinces. A teacher by profession, Michael freely distributes his bird knowledge, built up over four decades. Michael introduced us to Emeifeng and proposed the Nonggang Babbler trip. We, in turn, had the pleasure of showing Michael various sites in the Shanghai region after Michael and his family moved to Shanghai from Nanchang in August 2015.

In America, I am fortunate to be based in central Florida, one of the finest birding areas in one of the best states in the USA for birding. In Florida, the birding is so good, I take my binoculars even on a quick trip to the grocery store. My parents’ back yard alone attracted dozens of species, and we added more at local parks as well as major reserves such as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Elaine and I also took a 15-day birding honeymoon to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where we birded with noted American birder Chris Feeney.

Sunset, 10 March 2015, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Elaine and I hear a loud, sickening crunch. I wade into the pond and get these powerful images of an American Alligator devouring a Blue Crab.
Sunset, 10 March 2015, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Elaine and I hear a loud, sickening crunch. I wade into the pond and get these powerful images of an American Alligator devouring a Blue Crab.

2015 IN SHANGHAI

The bulk of our year was spent around Shanghai. Our 227 “city” species were noted while compiling two major reports, one covering the spring migration and the other covering the autumn and winter. Trips further afield to places in Jiangsu and Zhejiang brought our Shanghai regional list to 305 species. Accompanying us on many of those trips was Michael Grunwell as well as German birder Kai Pflug and the husband-and-wife team of Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp.

Brown-eared Bulbul, Lesser Yangshan Island, 2 Jan. 2015. A few months after this photo was taken, Elaine and I noted this species in Yangkou, and in December 2015 we once again were noting the species on Lesser Yangshan. In Seoul, which I had the pleasure of visiting in May 2015, Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis is the 'default' bulbul, common and noisy, like Light-vented Bulbul in many Chinese cities. In Shanghai, Brown-eared Bulbul is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor.
Brown-eared Bulbul, Lesser Yangshan Island, 2 Jan. 2015. A few months after this photo was taken, Elaine and I noted this species in Yangkou, and in December 2015 we once again were noting the species on Lesser Yangshan. In Seoul, which I had the pleasure of visiting in May 2015, Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis is the ‘default’ bulbul, common and noisy, like Light-vented Bulbul in many Chinese cities. In Shanghai, Brown-eared Bulbul is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor.

Our springtime expedition in the Shanghai region saw us note 243 species. The autumn-winter report contained 259 species by 31 Dec. Here is what we discovered in 2015 around Shanghai:

— Amid the unremitting transformation of the Jiangsu and Shanghai coast, we found several shorebird species on the brink, among them the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, and the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Other threatened waders noted by us were Grey-tailed Tattler, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Far Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot. Other at-risk coastal species were Oriental Stork, Chinese Egret, Saunders’s Gull, and Reed Parrotbill, as well as the elegant passage migrant Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Long-billed Dowitcher, Rudong County (S of Yangkou), Jiangsu, 24 April 2015.
Long-billed Dowitcher, Rudong County (S of Yangkou), Jiangsu, 24 April 2015.

— The most notable extralimitals were Long-billed Dowitcher south of Yangkou, Black Redstart on Hengsha Island, and Dalmatian Pelican at Dongtai and Nanhui. Other interesting finds were Himalayan Swiftlet and Brown-eared Bulbul at Yangkou, Chestnut-cheeked Starling on Lesser Yangshan Island, and at Nanhui Common Goldeneye, Horned Grebe, Black Bittern, White-bellied Green Pigeon, Japanese Scops Owl, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, Black-collared Starling, and Common Rosefinch

Himalayan Swiftlet, Yangkou, 13 Sept. 2015.
Himalayan Swiftlet, Yangkou, 13 Sept. 2015.

— We noted 14 Emberiza species, among them three threatened species (Yellow-breasted Bunting, Yellow Bunting, and Japanese Reed Bunting), the beautiful Crested Bunting, East Asian favorites Meadow Bunting, Tristram’s Bunting, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Chestnut Bunting, Yellow-browed Bunting, and Yellow-throated Bunting, and Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting, Black-faced Bunting, and Pallas’s Reed Bunting

Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanmincun (near Yangkou), Rudong County, Jiangsu, 12 April 2015. I reported this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). A week later, AWSG told me that the godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years prior!) in Victoria, Australia.
Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanmincun (near Yangkou), Rudong County, Jiangsu, 12 April 2015. I reported this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). A week later, AWSG told me that the godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years prior!) in Victoria, Australia.

— We noted dozens of East Asian migrants, breeders, and residents, among them Grey-headed Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Oriental Pratincole, Black-tailed Gull, Lesser Cuckoo, Northern Boobook, Oriental Dollarbird, Speckled Piculet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Bull-headed Shrike, Chinese Grey Shrike, Yellow-bellied Tit, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler, Grey-backed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, Brown-headed Thrush, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Rufous-tailed Robin, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, and Red-throated Pipit

Thick-billed Warbler, Yangkou, 16 May 2015.
Thick-billed Warbler, Yangkou, 16 May 2015.

— During two trips to the Tianmu Mountains 250 km SW of Shanghai in Zhejiang, we watched a Crested Bunting sing, found a pair of Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, were encouraged by the many Buffy Laughingthrush, saw Crested Serpent Eagle and Black Eagle, came face-to-face with Koklass Pheasant, and noted more Russet Sparrow than Eurasian Tree Sparrow. We appreciated the strong Indo-Malayan character of the avifauna, as evidenced by classic southern Chinese species such as Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Indochinese Yuhina, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Little Forktail, and White-crowned Forktail

— At Yangkou, we found a reliable site for the elusive Brown-cheeked Rail

Collared Owlet, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.
Collared Owlet, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.

THE TRIPS TO EMEIFENG

In spring 2015, Elaine and I made two trips to Emeifeng in the mountains of northwest Fujian. We noted 103 species. Highlights:

— Finding the five key game birds: Elliot’s Pheasant, Cabot’s Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, as well as the beautiful Chinese Bamboo Partridge

Cabot's Tragopan, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.
Cabot’s Tragopan, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.

— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng

— Closely studying three Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni fokiensis, as well as having close encounters with White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius

Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.
Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.

— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed Forktail E. schistaceus, White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted Forktail E. maculatus bacatus

— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush

— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream and seeing Pygmy Wren-Babbler along that same stream

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.
Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.

— Noting other key south-China species, among them Black Bittern, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Black Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Besra, Collared Owlet, Asian Barred Owlet, Great Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Bay Woodpecker, Grey-chinned Minivet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Sultan Tit, Rufous-faced Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Brown Bush Warbler, Small Niltava, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Black-collared Starling, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Fork-tailed Sunbird, and Orange-bellied Leafbird

MAJOR DISCOVERIES IN HULUNBEIER & HEILONGJIANG

Our explorations in Heilongjiang and Hulunbeier were inspired by the words of John MacKinnon:

Instead of going to the familiar places in China to clock up new additions to life lists, why not get to some remote areas where you have a good chance of finding something new?

– John MacKinnon, A Field Guide to the Birds of China, p. 16

In Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, Elaine and I noted 228 species. We visited the region twice: once in January, a short trip with Brian Ivon Jones; and a longer trip in July with Jan-Erik Nilsén and later Brian. There were also two brief stops in Hohhot in south-central Inner Mongolia.

Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus, the first of many good birds I discovered near Elaine's home village. 20 Jan. 2015.
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus, the first of many good birds I discovered near Elaine’s home village. 20 Jan. 2015.

The January trip to Hulunbeier, the U.K.-sized prefecture in northeast Inner Mongolia, was our introduction to the region. Elaine, Brian, and I experienced cold such as I had never felt before. The lowest temperature we had was -36°C (-33°F). Among our highlights were Northern Hawk-Owl, White-backed Woodpecker, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Great Tit, and Arctic Redpoll.

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Wuerqihan, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 15 Jan. 2015.
Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Wuerqihan, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 15 Jan. 2015.

Elaine and I then traveled to Dawucun, her home village in southeastern Heilongjiang. There, on 21 January 2015, Elaine and I were married. (We worked in some birding that day, noting Common Kestrel behind her house.) I was pleasantly surprised by the good birding around Dawucun. Never walking more than 2 km from Elaine’s house, we noted Rough-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Siberian Accentor, and Eurasian Bullfinch.

Blyth's Pipit Anthus godlewskii near Manzhouli, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 20 July 2015.
Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii near Manzhouli, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 20 July 2015.

In the summer, Elaine and I returned to the region with Jan-Erik. The three of us spent 11-24 July exploring Hulunbeier. We drove our rented Honda CR-V 2533 km, covering the main habitats of Hulunbeier, among them the northern-temperate and taiga forests of the Greater Khingan Range and the arid grasslands around Hulun Lake.

Baikal Bush Warbler, 12 July 2015. Near Genhe, we were driving 60 km/h and in the middle of a conversation. Suddenly Jan-Erik said, 'I just heard Siberian Bush Warbler!' (IOC: Baikal Bush Warbler). I hit the brakes and parked. Within a few seconds, we had our bird. Jan-Erik has sharp ears!
Baikal Bush Warbler, 12 July 2015. Near Genhe, we were driving 60 km/h and in the middle of a conversation. Suddenly Jan-Erik said, ‘I just heard Siberian Bush Warbler!’ (IOC: Baikal Bush Warbler). I hit the brakes and parked. Within a few seconds, we had our bird. Jan-Erik has sharp ears!

Among the 170 species we noted were breeding Scaly-sided Merganser at Yikesama Forest and Swan Goose at the excellent Modamuji wetland. Other highlights: Great Grey Owl and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler at Wuerqihan; Demoiselle Crane, Oriental Plover, and Isabellline Shrike around Hulun Lake; breeding Arctic Warbler near Genhe and at Yikesama; Baikal Bush Warbler near Genhe and at Hanma Reserve; House Sparrow and Blyth’s Pipit at various locations; Hazel Grouse at various locations and Black Grouse at Hanma; nesting Common House Martin in Galaya; flocks of hundreds of Pacific Swift and Common Swift in the towns; banded Red-necked Stint near Modamuji; 5000 Sand Martin and Bearded Reedling at Modamuji; and Pallas’s Reed Bunting ssp. lydiae and Common Starling at Wulannuo’er.

Common Swift, Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia, 21 July 2015.
Common Swift, Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia, 21 July 2015.

Next came two weeks (26 July-8 Aug.) in eastern Heilongjiang with Brian Ivon Jones. The trip began and ended in Jiamusi and took us on a loop through areas along the border with Russia, principally along the Ussuri and Amur rivers. This part of the trip was somewhat of a disappointment, mainly because seas of maize have eaten up hundreds of square kilometers of habitat. Still, we managed to find Oriental Stork in unexpected places such as Tongjiang; at Qixing River we found breeding Red-necked Grebe and noted Red-crowned Crane, White-naped Crane, and Reed Parrotbill (ssp. polivanovi, “Northern Parrotbill”); and at Qindeli Farms we saw Black Woodpecker and Mountain Hare.

Eurasian Woodcock, Honghe Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang, 30 July 2015. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/4, 1/80, ISO 10000.
Eurasian Woodcock, Honghe Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang, 30 July 2015. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/4, 1/80, ISO 10000.

Elaine and I spent 9 Aug. to 8 Sept. at Dawucun. The month at Elaine’s parents’ house was a high point in my birding career and one of the most satisfying moments in my many years in China. The birding was excellent, even in late summer, and even better was combining birding with family. Elaine and I would bird in the morning and afternoon and in the evening have dinner with her parents, sisters, and nieces.

Elaine Du (L) birding with her nieces Lisa Li (C) and Jennifer Jiang, Dawucun, Heilongjiang, 13 Aug. 2015.
Elaine Du (L) birding with her nieces Lisa Li (C) and Jennifer Jiang, Dawucun, Heilongjiang, 13 Aug. 2015.

Elaine and I rediscovered the quiet hills 1.5 km south of her village, and we made a major discovery: Xidaquan National Forest, 9400 hectares of old-growth secondary woodland just 21 km from Dawucun. Xidaquan had never been properly birded before, and the park managers welcomed our research, giving us free admission in return for a list of the species we noted.

Lush vegetation at forest edge, with thickly forested low mountains typical of region in background. Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 2 Sept. 2015.
Lush vegetation at forest edge, with thickly forested low mountains typical of region in background. Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 2 Sept. 2015.

We made 12 visits to Xidaquan and submitted to the managers a list of 91 species noted around the park and Dawucun. Among the highlights were discovering the Eurasian Eagle-Owl while birding with Elaine’s young nieces at the quarry near Dawucun. We found Eurasian Eagle-Owl at two other locations, one of them in Xidaquan, where we also noted Ural Owl and Long-eared Owl. Eastern Crowned Warbler were singing loudly and defending territory deep into August, and Radde’s Warbler were behaving likewise into September.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea amurensis, Xidaquan, 17 Aug. 2015.
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea amurensis, Xidaquan, 17 Aug. 2015.

We regularly noted classic northeast China taxa such as Coal Tit ssp. ater, Eurasian Nuthatch ssp. amurensis, Eurasian Jay ssp. brandtii, Willow Tit ssp. baicalensis, and Marsh Tit ssp. brevirostris. At Xidaquan we saw Mandarin Duck, Asian Stubtail, Thick-billed Warbler, Eurasian Treecreeper, Siberian Thrush, Pale Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, and Long-tailed Rosefinch; in the hills behind Dawucun we had breeding White-throated Rock Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher as well as Northern Goshawk, Chinese Grey Shrike, Grey-backed Thrush, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, and Eurasian Red Squirrel; and in Elaine’s parents’ back garden we had Daurian Starling as well as the regular nighttime visits by the eagle-owls.

Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan, 25 Aug. 2015.
Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan, 25 Aug. 2015.

The hills behind Elaine’s house became like a second home to us. A message I sent on 4 Sept. to the Shanghai Birding WeChat group sums up my mood:

“WISH-YOU-WERE-HERE MOMENT: If crisp fall weather could be bottled up and sold, then today would be the day to harvest it. Brilliant blue sky, cool qiufeng (秋风, ‘autumn breeze’), temp. about 17°C. Speaking of harvests, Elaine and her father are nearby picking Honey Mushroom Armillaria mellea. Elaine just radioed me; she and baba found a mother lode and expect to collect about 8 kg of the tasty fungus. I just now was writing almost literally in the shadow of a White-backed Woodpecker, the largest pied woodpecker and a very inquisitive creature, curious even about the weak playback coming from my iPhone speaker. Before settling down, I startled a Hazel Grouse and heard the laughter of Black Woodpecker. A Pale Thrush gave itself away with its tzzt contact call, then viewed me from a high branch before darting off. … Thank you for waiting me out while I drink my fill of these northern forests. It’s been one of my sweetest China experiences, doing great birding by day and being welcomed by Elaine’s warmhearted family at night. Birding and family! Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, a species commonly noted by Elaine and me at Xidaquan. They were singing and defending territory into September. This photo is from 24 Aug. 2015.
Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, a species commonly noted by Elaine and me at Xidaquan. They were singing and defending territory into September. This photo is from 24 Aug. 2015.

BEIJING & HEBEI IN OCTOBER

Jan-Erik was an excellent tour guide at Nanpu, a coastal site in Hebei and the major wintering site for Relict Gull. Our Swedish friend also introduced us to Miyun, where we noted Greater Spotted Eagle and Long-billed Plover.

We found this wintering Japanese Thrush in Longheng on 20 Dec. 2015.
We found this wintering Japanese Thrush in Longheng on 20 Dec. 2015.

LONGHENG, GUANGXI, HOME OF NONGGANG BABBLER

From 16-21 Dec., Michael, Elaine, and I were in Longheng, Guangxi. We noted 76 species, chief among them Nonggang Babbler. We had White-winged Magpie, savored close nighttime views of Collared Scops Owl, enjoyed views of the elusive Lesser Shortwing, and delighted in southern China favorites Sultan Tit, Buff-breasted Babbler, Streaked Wren-Babbler, and Black-breasted Thrush. Farther afield, driving in our rented Mitsubishi Pajero, we found Large Woodshrike in the heavily wooded valley near Longheng, White-browed Piculet and Chestnut-capped Babbler in the cane fields near Longheng, Slaty-bellied Tesia in a thicket along a farm road, Siberian Rubythroat along a stream near Nonggang village, and Red-headed Trogon, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-throated Babbler, and Pale-footed Bush Warbler near Nonggang National Nature Reserve. Pin-striped Tit-Babbler and Rufescent Prinia were seen at various points, and Crested Bunting were locally abundant on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng.

Bird Species Noted in 2015 by Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du

In 2015, the husband-and-wife team of Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du noted 305 species in the Shanghai region, 450 species in China, and 640 species worldwide.

Shanghai region: 305 (227 in Shanghai Shi)
China: 450
Asia: 451 (includes China list plus Varied Tit, noted by Craig in Seoul)
World: 640 (includes Asia list plus all American species not on Asia list)

Featured image: In 2015, my wife Elaine Du discovered Sandhill Crane (L) at my home in Florida; her husband, Craig, discovered Eurasian Eagle-Owl (R) at Elaine’s home in Heilongjiang. 2015 was our Year of the Crane and the Owl.