Nonggang Babbler: From ‘Unknown to Science’ to ‘Automatic Tick’

At Longheng, a village near Nonggang National Nature Reserve in Guangxi, Nonggang Babbler has gone from “unknown to science” to “automatic tick.” This is thanks to enterprising individuals such as Lú Róng (卢荣). Mr. Lu created a setup that he maintains daily. His Nonggang Babbler make nearly guaranteed appearances between the hours of 8 and 11. What an amazing turn of events for a species that was not discovered until 2008.

From 16-21 Dec. 2015, Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and I were in Guangxi. In Longheng, we stayed at Mr. Lu’s home, which doubles as a lodge. We noted 76 species. Within walking distance of Longheng we had, besides Nonggang Babbler, White-winged Magpie, close nighttime views of Collared Scops Owl, the elusive Lesser Shortwing, and 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. All of the many Fork-tailed Sunbird that we saw were male. Conspicuous by their absence or near-absence were laughingthrushes (0 species noted) and raptors (3 species noted).

Longheng and karst towers from balcony at Mr. Lu's lodge. Photo by Elaine Du.
Longheng and karst towers from balcony at Mr. Lu’s lodge. (Elaine Du)

Longheng involves a flight to Nanning and an easy, partly birdable three-hour drive south to the village. In the village, you can choose between easy activities such as photographing Nonggang Babbler at the setup and harder work such as owl-watching at night. The villagers are members of China’s largest minority group, the Zhuang. Even though sugar cane fills most flat areas, there is still much good habitat, and even the cane fields are somewhat birdable. In the surrounding forests you can get a good impression of tropical southeast China avifauna. The karst is a strange, romantic landscape. Thickly vegetated limestone towers rise like skyscrapers from the valley floor.

Reach Mr. Lu at any of the following numbers: +86 181-7815-7646, +86 (0) 771-8926541, and +86 181-7718-5027. Accommodation at Mr. Lu’s lodge was spartan, but his wife’s country cooking was just fine. For 150 yuan per person per day, we were getting a room, breakfast and supper, and access to the blinds.

Lu Rong (L), Craig Brelsford (C), and Michael Grunwell searching for White-winged Magpie at Longheng. Photo by Elaine Du.
Lu Rong (L), Craig Brelsford (C), and Michael Grunwell searching for White-winged Magpie at Longheng. (Elaine Du)

Mr. Lu is a good birder and will be happy to go birding with you if he has the time. Mr. Lu led us to the Chestnut-capped Babbler site, and he was with us when Elaine spotted the piculets in the sugar cane. He led the owl walk that got us views of Collared Scops Owl. Mr. Lu is in his 50s, was born in Longheng, knows every square inch of the territory within a 10 km radius, and is full of valuable info.

Around Longheng, one can choose between easy and difficult birding activities. Here is a tough one: finding out that the restless, skulking bird that refused to show was Grey-throated Babbler. By crawling into the bushes, I was able to get our only record of this species for our trip. Our partner Michael Grunwell is standing right. Photo by Elaine Du.
Around Longheng, one can choose between easy and difficult birding activities. Here is a tough one: finding out that the restless, skulking bird that refused to show was Grey-throated Babbler. By crawling into the bushes, I was able to get our only record of this species for our trip. Our partner Michael Grunwell is standing right. (Elaine Du)

Mr. Lu has competition: the young Huáng Yuǎn Chéng (黄远程, +86 133-1781-2383). Mr. Huang controls some of the land around the giant banyan tree just outside the village. In the wooded area near the tree, Mr. Huang has created a beautiful setup using the natural limestone as props. Mr. Huang also has a blind for viewing White-winged Magpie.

It’s possible that Mr. Lu and Mr. Huang gained their wealth of bird knowledge by hunting birds. Now, these men not only don’t hunt, but I am sure they would also stop anyone they found poaching. In tiny Longheng, a bird-photography industry has arisen, centered around Nonggang Babbler. At other places in China, notably Baihualing in Yunnan, the same thing is happening. Chinese bird photographers are the driving force behind this small industry. The lust for photos of these mainly well-off men is having a trickle-down effect, putting cash in the pockets of formerly poor farmers and creating a free-market rationale for protecting birds.

One of the easiest birding activities at Longheng is viewing Nonggang Babbler. Here I am at Mr. Lu's Nonggang Babbler setup. Photo by Elaine Du.
One of the easiest birding activities at Longheng is viewing Nonggang Babbler. Here I am at Mr. Lu’s Nonggang Babbler setup. (Elaine Du)

We did not look into getting permits for Nonggang National Nature Reserve. We had been warned that permits would be difficult to obtain, and I find demeaning the entire application process, in which extra scrutiny and double standards are applied to foreigners. We were happy with Longheng, and in any case the locked gate to the nature reserve lies several hundred meters deep within high-quality secondary forest, and one can bird to the gate without a permit.

Elaine Du was voted Most Valuable Birder of the trip. The election took place on the plane back to Shanghai. The democratic process evolved in this wise: Elaine cast her vote for me. Michael voted for Elaine. In a dramatic tie-breaking maneuver, I agreed with Michael and swung the election to Elaine. The engraving on Elaine’s citation reads: “For spotting and helping ID White-browed Piculet as well as for various & sundry excellent feats & good deeds, Elaine Du is voted Most Valuable Birder!”

Elaine Du, Most Valuable Birder of the Nonggang 2015 Birding Expedition.
Elaine Du, Most Valuable Birder of the Nonggang 2015 Birding Expedition. (Craig Brelsford)

THE TRIP

Wed. 16 Dec. 2015
Nanning

Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, and I flew from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport to Nanning. We picked up our rented Mitsubishi Pajero. Spent night at hotel near airport.

Thurs. 17 Dec. 2015
Longheng

We counted 17 Crested Bunting on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng.
We counted 17 Crested Bunting on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng. (Craig Brelsford)

Bird of the day: White-winged Magpie

We left our hotel and drove 150 km southwest, taking the G7211 freeway to Chóngzuǒ (崇左). From there we took secondary roads through Xiǎngshuǐ (响水) to our destination, Lónghēng (陇亨). We found Crested Bunting between Chongzuo and Longheng. At a scrubby area near Xiangshui, we found Plain Flowerpecker and female Black-throated Sunbird.

At Longheng we met Mr. Lu, a local man who has set up blinds in the forests nearby. He took us to a blind. There, Michael had his first view ever of White-tailed Robin. Small Niltava and Snowy-browed Flycatcher also appeared. In the evening, Mr. Lu took us to an ancient banyan tree near the village. White-winged Magpie flew off as we arrived.

Fri. 18 Dec. 2015
Longheng

Bird of the day: Nonggang Babbler

After breakfast we were taken to a setup by Mr. Lu. Other bird photographers were there. A flock of 10 Nonggang Babbler arrived. The babblers are extremely tame, so much so that Mr. Lu has not even erected a blind. The photographers sit in the open. The Nonggang Babbler were totally without fear, at times foraging within inches of our feet. The mealworms set out by Mr. Lu are clearly a powerful attractant but are only a part of their diet. The setup also attracted Streaked Wren-Babbler, White-tailed Robin, a female Fujian Niltava, and Red-flanked Bluetail. After we were finished at the Nonggang Babbler setup, we visited another blind, where Michael picked up Black-crested Bulbul, and where I enjoyed another close view of Buff-breasted Babbler. We took a long drive on dirt roads. In one of the few places where forest reaches the road, we found Slaty-bellied Tesia. We drove back to Longheng and took a third road out of the village. This was the only road where the high clearance of our Pajero was necessary. This road led to a remote valley guarded by a skull and hound from hell. It took little imagination to see the rabid dog and scowling skull in the totally natural karst. We called this remote valley “the backcountry.”

Sat. 19 Dec. 2015
Longheng

It is nearly impossible for a single photographer to photograph owls at night. For the shot of this Collared Scops Owl, I am indebted to Michael Grunwell and Mr. Lu, the former for his deft use of the flashlight, the latter for his intelligent guiding.
It is nearly impossible for a single photographer to photograph owls at night. For the shot of this Collared Scops Owl, I am indebted to Michael Grunwell and Mr. Lu, the former for his deft use of the flashlight, the latter for his intelligent guiding. (Craig Brelsford)

Bird of the day: Collared Scops Owl

In the morning we stumbled upon a blind near the giant banyan tree. This well-designed site is the work of the artful Mr. Huang, whom we later met. Here we found Japanese Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, Black-breasted Thrush, and a stunning male Fujian Niltava. We drove slowly up the steep, overgrown road to the backcountry, where we picked up Large Woodshrike and Sultan Tit. We drove to the creek at Nonggang village, finding there a male Siberian Rubythroat. We drove as far as the locked gate at Nonggang National Nature Reserve. On the way to the gate we passed through very good primary or old secondary forest. We found 4 Red-headed Trogon and 12 Long-tailed Broadbill. We returned to Longheng. Mr. Lu wanted to look for Collared Scops Owl. Michael Grunwell and I followed Mr. Lu in the dark. We were accompanied by two Chinese bird photographers. Mr. Lu supplied the headlamps; I supplied the playback. We walked a few hundred meters down the dirt road. After a while we heard 2 Collared Scops Owl. We climbed through giant bamboo to the base of the cliff. We spotted the owl right above us on the bamboo. Five people were too many, and it soon left. We walked toward the other owl. The Chinese photographers half gave up and were walking back toward Mr. Lu’s house. Michael and I glimpsed a form flying through the treetops. It was the owl. We enjoyed a sustained view.

Sun. 20 Dec. 2015
Longheng

Lesser Shortwing Brachypteryx leucophris just after its bath at photo blind in Longheng, Guangxi, 20 Dec. 2015. F/4, 1/8, ISO 10000.
Lesser Shortwing Brachypteryx leucophris just after its bath at photo blind in Longheng, Guangxi, 20 Dec. 2015. F/4, 1/8, ISO 10000. (Craig Brelsford)

Bird of the day: Lesser Shortwing

We began our day at Mr. Huang’s blind near the giant banyan tree. Mr. Huang came by and took us to another blind, set up to allow photographers to view White-winged Magpie. The magpies arrived, as expected, but only for a few seconds. We drove to Nonggang, where we found Pale-footed Bush Warbler. We drove back to Longheng and revisited Mr. Huang’s Banyan Blind. We waited until after sunset. The light was so low that I could hardly focus my camera. Our patience paid off with Lesser Shortwing.

Through the gloom we could just make out the form of a small bird. So dark was it by now that I could ID the bird only by the photos I was taking of it.

The shortwing helped itself to a few mealworms and took a bath. It had no competition. Its strategy was to wait out the bigger birds and use its tolerance for very low light as an advantage. We got sustained views and photos of a rarely seen bird.

The shortwing was the capstone on another successful project in low-light bird photography. Ever since a magical morning in June 2010, when I photographed Fairy Pitta in the pre-dawn light at Dongzhai, Henan, I have been drawn to photographing forest birds in low light.

The shortwing seems to be looking at us, but actually it has no idea it is being watched. It is simply responding to the soft click of the camera. What an advantage blinds can give birders. Where else but in a blind can one view a Lesser Shortwing, among the shyest of birds, for 10 minutes? F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000.
The shortwing seems to be looking at us, but actually it has no idea it is being watched. It is simply responding to the soft click of the camera. What an advantage blinds can give birders. Where else but in a blind can one view a Lesser Shortwing, among the shyest of birds, for 10 minutes? F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000. (Craig Brelsford)

My current setup is well-suited to this task. I place my Nikon D3S and Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens atop my Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon-fiber tripod. The D3S is now a 6-year-old model; though superseded by newer models such as the D4S, the D3S remains one of the best low-light cameras ever made, easily creating usable photos at ISO 10000.

I put the D3S in mirror-up mode. I tighten the head to the firmest position and slowly follow the movement of the shortwing with my left hand, which holds the wand attached to the head. When the shortwing stops, I release my hand from the wand; because the head is tight and hard to move, the camera always rests in the position to which I guide it.

This dorsal view provides plenty of detail. Note the short wings and stubby tail. F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000.
This dorsal view provides plenty of detail. Note the short wings and stubby tail. F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000. (Craig Brelsford)

I press the button on my shutter-release cable, held in my right hand. The first press opens the mirror; I wait a second, then press the button again, opening the shutter and exposing the image.

Low light is not bad light. With patience, skill, and the right equipment, one can achieve lovely images of birds in near-darkness.

Mon. 21 Dec. 2015
Longheng-Nanning-Shanghai

Bird of the day: White-browed Piculet

In the morning, Michael, Elaine, and I were led by Mr. Lu to a site (22.525578, 107.012304) 7 km from Longheng known to hold Chestnut-capped Babbler. We found 4 amid streamside vegetation and sugar cane. We next looked for Yellow-eyed Babbler at several sites at the edges of sugar-cane fields. We found none but got a fine consolation prize: 3 White-browed Piculet. The piculets were found in the sugar cane at 22.478903, 107.000033 and according to Mr. Lu breed in the heavily wooded village near that point. April is the best time to view the breeding piculets, he said. Our team had spread out and was alerted to the piculets by Elaine’s shouts. She didn’t recognize the piculets, but her vivid description led Mr. Lu to surmise that White-browed Piculet was a possibility. Playback attracted them back, and we all got good views. Michael was ecstatic; his last bird of the trip was a lifer.

We dropped Mr. Lu off at Longheng and enjoyed a smooth ride back to Nanning airport and an uneventful plane ride back to Shanghai.

PHOTO GALLERY

The pale-blue iris and a white crescent behind the ear are among the features distinguishing Stachyris nonggangensis from Sooty Babbler S. herberti, which occurs in Laos and Vietnam and is the species to which Nonggang Babbler is most often compared.
The pale-blue iris and a white crescent behind the ear are among the features distinguishing Stachyris nonggangensis from Sooty Babbler S. herberti, which occurs in Laos and Vietnam and is the species to which Nonggang Babbler is most often compared.
Buff-breasted Babbler Pellorneum tickelli was one of several south-China specialties we enjoyed in Longheng.
Buff-breasted Babbler Pellorneum tickelli was one of several south-China specialties we enjoyed in Longheng. (Craig Brelsford)
Hides are great equalizers. Under normal conditions, birders would struggle to tick Streaked Wren-Babbler. At Mr. Lu's hide, this fellow lingered for minutes at a time, and even scolded us!
Hides are great equalizers. Under normal conditions, birders would struggle to tick Streaked Wren-Babbler. At Mr. Lu’s hide, this fellow lingered for minutes at a time, and even scolded us! (Craig Brelsford)
Noisy, gregarious, and flamboyantly colored, Long-tailed Broadbill provide unforgettable moments to the birder.
Noisy, gregarious, and flamboyantly colored, Long-tailed Broadbill provide unforgettable moments to the birder. (Craig Brelsford)
Sitting patiently in Mr. Huang's hide paid off with this serviceable shot of White-winged Magpie.
Sitting patiently in Mr. Huang’s hide paid off with this serviceable shot of White-winged Magpie. (Craig Brelsford)
Turdus is an easy genus to love. Turdus is powerful, with representatives on all the habitable continents and even Oceania; consistent, with the same basic size and rounded shape common to all species; and beautiful, as in the case of south China's Black-breasted Thrush Turdus dissimilis.
Turdus is an easy genus to love. Turdus is powerful, with representatives on all the habitable continents and even Oceania; consistent, with the same basic size and rounded shape common to all species; and beautiful, as in the case of south China’s Black-breasted Thrush T. dissimilis. (Craig Brelsford)

Simple List of Species of Bird Noted Around Longheng and Nonggang National Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China, 16-21 Dec. 2015 (76 species)

Greater Coucal
Collared Scops Owl
Red-headed Trogon
Common Kingfisher
White-browed Piculet
Bay Woodpecker
Common Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Long-tailed Broadbill
Large Woodshrike
Long-tailed Shrike
White-bellied Erpornis
Ashy Drongo
White-throated Fantail
Red-billed Blue Magpie
White-winged Magpie
Large-billed Crow
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
Sultan Tit
Japanese Tit
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Light-vented Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Puff-throated Bulbul
Black Bulbul
Red-rumped Swallow
Yellow-bellied Warbler
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler
Slaty-bellied Tesia
Pale-footed Bush Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Two-barred Warbler
Bianchi’s Warbler
Rufescent Prinia
Plain Prinia
Common Tailorbird
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler
Nonggang Babbler
Grey-throated Babbler
Rufous-capped Babbler
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
Chestnut-capped Babbler
David’s Fulvetta
Streaked Wren-Babbler
Buff-breasted Babbler
Japanese White-eye
Crested Myna
Grey-backed Thrush
Black-breasted Thrush
Japanese Thrush
Chinese Blackbird
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Fujian Niltava
Small Niltava
Lesser Shortwing
Daurian Redstart
White-tailed Robin
Siberian Rubythroat
Red-flanked Bluetail
Snowy-browed Flycatcher
Stejneger’s Stonechat
Grey Bush Chat
Plain Flowerpecker
Fork-tailed Sunbird
Black-throated Sunbird
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Olive-backed Pipit
Crested Bunting
Black-faced Bunting

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Does not cover Guangxi province. Consulted in Shanghai.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions.

Lynx Edicions. The Internet Bird Collection. ibc.lynxeds.com

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. We had a copy of MacKinnon at our lodge and consulted it at night.

Oriental Bird Club. Oriental Bird Images. orientalbirdimages.org.

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Our first reference. “E Tonkin” (Vietnam) is the region closest to Nonggang.

Smith, Andrew T. & Yan Xie, eds. Mammals of China. Princeton University Press.

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

EQUIPMENT

Cameras: Nikon D3S; for landscapes, Apple iPad, Apple iPhone 4S, and Apple iPhone 6
Lens: Nikon VR 600mm F/4G
Sound recorder: Olympus DM-650
Binoculars: Swarovski EL 8 x 32 (Craig), Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 (Elaine)
Spotting scope: Swarovski ATX-95

Featured image: It may seem incredible that a vertebrate species in China remained unknown to science until the 21st century. That however is the case with Nonggang Babbler Stachyris nonggangensis, discovered by Chinese researchers in 2008. (Craig Brelsford)

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98 Species at Top Shanghai Sites

On 28-29 Nov., Elaine and I noted 98 species at three of the Shanghai region’s top sites: Lesser Yangshan Island, Nanhui, and Hengsha Island. On Hengsha Main Pond we noted 3200 Falcated Duck. We noted Water/Brown-cheeked Rail at Nanhui and at Hengsha, and among the hundreds of ducks at Dishui Lake were 10 Greater Scaup as well as 15 Black-necked Grebe. A beautiful jack Merlin was grounded by rain on Hengsha, and another on Nanhui scared up a cloud of rather late Barn Swallow. Verditer Flycatcher resorted to the reeds in the treeless reclaimed area on Hengsha, and on Lesser Yangshan we saw juvenile Lesser Coucal. That tiny island was characteristically thrushy, with Red-throated Thrush and Naumman’s Thrush appearing alongside Dusky Thrush, Pale Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Chinese Blackbird, the latter not commonly seen on Lesser Yangshan.

Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman's Thrush.
Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman’s Thrush. (Craig Brelsford)

The 9000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond were overwhelmingly of just three species: Falcated Duck, Gadwall, and Eurasian Coot, with sprinklings of Mandarin Duck, Common Shelduck, Common Pochard, and Black-necked Grebe. I had never seen so many birds in a single place in Shanghai Shi. The reclaimed area on which the pond sits is under no environmental protection; the area is slated to be turned into a giant container port.

Hengsha Main Pond is in the northwest quadrant of the reclaimed area, hard by the fenced border with Hengsha Island proper. We viewed the pond from the perimeter road, the other side of which contains farms and trees. While scanning and counting, we noted Hair-crested Drongo and Dusky Warbler. Earlier, in the reclaimed area we once again noted Chinese Grey Shrike and a single Water Pipit. We hadn’t seen Intermediate Egret in a while. Robin-like Red-flanked Bluetail were absent from the treeless reclaimed area, but chat-like Daurian Redstart turned into reed-bed specialists; we noted 18.

Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited.
Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited. (Craig Brelsford)

On Saturday Elaine and I were joined by veteran English birder Michael Grunwell. Lesser Yangshan was its typical late-November self, serving up its usual fare of Daurian Redstart, less common delicacies such as Yellow-bellied Tit, and a main course of buntings, this time Meadow Bunting, Little Bunting, Yellow-throated Bunting, and Black-faced Bunting.

The diversity of ducks on Dishui Lake was a welcome surprise. Common Shelduck appeared here as well, and we sifted through the Tufted Duck to find the Greater Scaup. The Mandarin Duck were seen on a pond inside the sea wall and attracted some photographers, who paid little attention to the nearby flock of 800 Kentish Plover.

Mandarin Duck, Nanhui.
Mandarin Duck, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

At Nanhui as well as at Hengsha, we selected places likely to hold Water Rail or Brown-cheeked Rail. There, we played back recordings of Rallus aquaticus. On both occasions, we got a loud call from someplace deep within the reeds, but no appearance. While waiting at Nanhui, we noted a flock of Reed Parrotbill.

We spent Saturday night at Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿; +86 135-0185-1814 and +86 150-2164-5467). For 120 yuan we got a simple double room with bathroom down the hall. Meals are usually available there, but we arrived too late. We had freeze-dried meals with us; they once again proved to be a big asset, allowing us to eat a full meal after a long day birding.

By positioning ourselves on Hengsha the night before we birded, we saved ourselves our typical early wake-up in the city and a dash to Changxing Island for the first ferry.

The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. Look for a bend in the road, a gap in the fence, and a broken causeway below. Photo by Elaine Du.
The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. (Elaine Du)
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui.
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye.
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: While Craig Brelsford consults Collins Bird Guide, Michael Grunwell uses Craig’s Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope to view Greater Scaup. Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 28 Nov. 2015. (Elaine Du)

Koklass Pheasant Highlight Tianmu Trip

On Sunday 22 Nov. 2015, I completed a rainy three-day trip to the Tianmu Mountains, 270 km (170 miles) southwest of Shanghai. The highlight was 4 Koklass Pheasant on Saturday. My wife and partner Elaine Du and I found the pheasants on a long walk down the mountain road at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. We found several other common south China species rarely or never recorded in Shanghai, among them Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Collared Owlet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, White-crowned Forktail, and Little Forktail. Among the wintering birds were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Mugimaki Flycatcher.

After many weeks spent watching migrating birds along the coast, Elaine and I noted the more settled character of the bird life in the big southern-temperate montane forest at Tianmu. Many of the species we saw have ranges that extend not much farther north than Tianmu.

On Saturday we took the bus to the parking lot at Longfengjian, the famous Japanese Cedar forest. We declined to pay 140 yuan per person to enter the forest. Instead, we walked the road back toward our hotel. The first Koklass took off from cover and flew down slope. A few bends and twists of the road below, we again heard the beating of pheasants’ wings. Finally, at a spectacular clearing about 3 km (2 miles) below Longfengjian, I got a view of a female Koklass startled into flight. I rushed to the edge of the slope, just in time to see her partner, a stunning green-headed male. In the high-quality habitat of Tianmu, large and well-protected, pheasants may be numerous.

At that clearing, the view the pheasants take in is superb, especially on a wet day, with clouds partly filling the valley below. The exercise, fresh air, and good birds put us in a fine mood. I was without my camera, not willing to carry it through the mist, and I reveled in my mobility. When I heard a Koklass calling from bamboo, I jumped in to take a look. I couldn’t find the pheasant, but no matter: The sound of a singing Collared Owlet quickly refocused my attention.

The forest around Longfengjian is mixed broadleaf-conifer. The moderately thick undergrowth is composed partly of short, wispy bamboo. The broadleaf trees are bare now, and the scene is reminiscent of colder, more northern climes. Farther down, more trees retain their leaves, the undergrowth is in places impenetrable, and bamboo grows in thick stands.

Elaine and I have now had a pair of Tianmu trips—one this past May and now this one six months later. The trips have given us a view of Tianmu at opposite ends of the year. We now better understand the southern Chinese flora and avifauna right at the doorstep of Shanghai, and we appreciate more than ever the transitional, north-south character of east-central China.

PHOTOS

Koklass Pheasant droppings.
At the spectacular clearing below Longfengjian, Koklass Pheasant droppings suggest a substantial presence of these unusual gamebirds. (Craig Brelsford)
The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015.
The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m (3,350 ft.). (Elaine Du)
Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing, West Tianmu, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015. Elev. 1020 m. Note the bare vegetation, the presence of bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet.
Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing. Note the bare vegetation, the bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet. (Craig Brelsford)

NOTES

To view our checklists from this trip, go to eBird:

20 Nov. 2015
21 Nov. 2015
22 Nov. 2015

Other posts about Tianmushan:

Tianmushan: A Must See Site for Shanghai Birders (Part 1)
Tianmushan: A Must See Site for Shanghai Birders (Part 2)
Tianmushan in July
Trip Report: Tianmushan, 1-3 April 2019

Featured photo: Female Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha, Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, Sichuan, 20 May 2013. Pucrasia macrolopha ranges from the Himalaya to eastern China. The species may be common at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. (Craig Brelsford)

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83 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

On Sat. 31 Oct. 2015, Elaine and I once again birded with Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp, and Xueping Popp. We noted 83 species on one of the best days I have ever had birding in Shanghai. Japanese Scops Owl was in Microforest 1 at Nanhui and attracted a crowd of photographers. Long-eared Owl greeted us within seconds of our arrival at the Magic GPS Point in Nanhui. We had Jack Snipe, Greater Scaup, Dalmatian Pelican, and 62 Black-faced Spoonbill.

Our day began on Lesser Yangshan. Seeing little to stir us, we made an early break for Nanhui. Within seconds of our arrival at the Magic GPS Point, we saw Long-eared Owl flying our way. The migrating owl alighted in some reeds, invisible to us, but not to the Vinous-throated Parrotbill. Recognizing their ancient enemy, the parrotbills cried out manically.

Impressive Long-eared Owl Asio otus is a Holarctic species, found both in Eurasia and North America.
Impressive Long-eared Owl Asio otus is a Holarctic species, found both in Eurasia and North America. (Craig Brelsford)

We drove to Shanghai Binhai Forest Park but found little of interest; the action is clearly smack-dab on the coast; once one is even a kilometer inland, the intensity of the birding experience wanes. We quickly headed back. The fields near an empty blue-roofed building were covered with brush and were jumping with buntings. Here we found the Jack Snipe as well as Peregrine Falcon, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, Chestnut-eared Bunting, and the endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola is an endangered species. Huge numbers of these birds are trapped in their wintering grounds, which includes southern China.
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola is an endangered species. Huge numbers of these birds are trapped in their wintering grounds, which includes southern China. (Craig Brelsford)

Back at the microforests, we had season’s first Goldcrest plus an array of thrushes drawn in part by the precious cover these tiny stands of trees provided and also by the mealworms thrown liberally on the ground by the photographers. A female Japanese Thrush was a good catch by us, and we had Eyebrowed Thrush. The Japanese Scops Owl never budged while enterprising photographers carefully cut away a branch that had been denying them a full-body shot.

Ruddy Shelduck was a first-of-season for Elaine and me. Hair-crested Drongo appeared again on our list. A long scan of the sea just beyond the wall revealed the scaup as well as hundreds of Eastern Spot-billed Duck, a few hundred Eurasian Teal, plus Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, and Northern Pintail.

The laughs just kept on rolling as we enjoyed our camaraderie as well as the great birds. “This is the best Christmas of my life–and it’s only Halloween!” I joked.

Weather: Wind steady from NE. Cloudy, but visibility good; Nanhui visible from Lesser Yangshan, and vice versa. High 20°C.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 31 Oct. 2015 (32 species)

Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Garbage Dump Coastal Plain (30.638860, 122.060089), Xiǎoyánglíng Cove (30.642243, 122.066940), & Temple Mount (30.639945, 122.048277). 07:10-09:30.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 14
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 4
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler P. proregulus 3
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 3
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 10
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 1
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 8
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 72
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 3
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 40
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 8
Little Bunting E. pusilla 4
Yellow-browed Bunting E. chrysophrys 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 31 Oct. 2015 (73 species)

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159); list includes birds found at Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782) and at Shanghai Binhai Forest Park (Shànghǎi Bīnhǎi Sēnlín Gōngyuán [上海滨海森林公园]; 30.966324, 121.910289). 10:10-16:30.

Taiga/Tundra Bean Goose Anser fabalis/A. serrirostris 12
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 5
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 30
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 120
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 1000
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 20
Northern Pintail A. acuta 30
Eurasian Teal A. crecca ca. 300
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 7
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 5
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 62
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea ca. 200
Great Egret A. alba 10
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 5
Little Egret E. garzetta ca. 200
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 3
Hen Harrier C. cyaneus 3
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 30
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 5
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 20
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 6
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 20
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 40
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 5
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 10
Japanese Scops Owl Otus semitorques 1
Long-eared Owl Asio otus 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 2
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 4
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis ca. 50
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 8
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 11
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 40
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 1
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 7
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 3
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 3
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 3
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 5
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 2
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 20
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 30
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 300
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 10
White Wagtail M. alba 8
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 20
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 15
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 20
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 8
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata 2
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 12
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 3

Featured image: Japanese Scops Owl Otus semitorques, Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015.

Rainy but Good Day on Chongming

On Sun. 1 Nov. 2015, despite a late start and amid a constant drizzle, Elaine and I noted 60 species at Chongming Dongtan. Hooded Crane have arrived, Chinese Grey Shrike was seen, and we noted Black-winged Kite in precisely the same location as last year.

kite,-black-winged003
KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE … & YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER. What Don Corleone taught Michael, these Crested Myna seem to know by instinct. Here they are massing close to Black-winged Kite.

Other highlights were Common Crane associating with Hooded, female Siberian Rubythroat, and impressive flocks of Brambling, 400 in all.

The female Pied Harrier was splotchy on top and the leading edge of the wings was so pale that they looked like headlights. We noted 6 species of bunting, with Yellow-throated Bunting the most conspicuous.

Agricultural activity inside the sea wall seems to be less this year than in previous years. Many fields lie fallow and have become overgrown, providing good habitat for buntings.

With rain falling all morning long and with more in the forecast, we decided not to push ourselves. Arriving at 11:30, we soon saw that the rain wasn’t hard enough to depress bird numbers, but it was enough to depress tourist numbers. The area around Chongming Dongtan is large and conducive to car-birding. We never left the car, we grinned and bore the rain, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). 11:30-16:30.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 20
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 500
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 1
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 70
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 8
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 50
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 6
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 3
Little Egret E. garzetta 30
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis 1
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1 female
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Common Crane Grus grus 4
Hooded Crane G. monacha 13
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 3
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 2
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 18
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 3
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 30
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 12
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 7
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 11
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 11
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana ca. 60
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 25
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 4
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 13
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 40
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 400
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 4 (1 taivana, 3 tschutschensis)
White Wagtail M. alba 3 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 3
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 6
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla ca. 400
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 42
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 5
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 33
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 15
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2

36 Species at Century Park

Elaine and I noted 36 species, an all-time high for us at Century Park. The list is a delightful, passerine-heavy, and thus very typical Century Park mix, livened up by Eurasian Woodcock. We found Great Spotted Woodpecker, uncommon in the park, and Tristram’s Bunting showed well. Thrush species are arriving, but their numbers are still small. We had 5 White’s Thrush, 6 Grey-backed Thrush, 2 Eyebrowed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, and Pale Thrush as well as the ever-present Chinese Blackbird.

The woodcock was in the very productive forest to the right of Gate 7 from the perspective of one entering the park. The sparrowhawks were seen high above Gate 7; distinguishing between Japanese and Eurasian Sparrowhawk, the two likely species, would have been guesswork for me with birds that high.

Black-browed Reed Warbler were seen once again in the reeds edging the lake near Gate 7. Along the reed bed near the soccer field we found an adult-male Bull-headed Shrike.

Weather: Mostly cloudy. High 19°C.

Century Park (Shìjì Gōngyuán [世纪公园]), Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China (31.219361, 121.551900). 08:10-12:15.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 8
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 4
Accipter sp. 2
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis ca. 75
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 4
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus ca. 50
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 15
Japanese Tit Parus minor 11
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 15
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 45
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 5
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 6
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 40
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 5
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 3
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 11
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 4
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 5
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 2

Featured image: Japanese Thrush Turdus cardis passes through the Shanghai region each spring and autumn. This monotypic species breeds on all the main islands of Japan as well as in a disjunct range from Henan to Guizhou. I took this photo of a male last year on Lesser Yangshan Island.

72 Species on Hengsha

Highlights from our 72-species day at Hengsha, Sun. 25 Oct. 2015: a lone Black-faced Spoonbill associating with 2 Eurasian Spoonbill, Chinese Grey Shrike, Red-throated Thrush, 2 Common Starling among White-cheeked Starling, and Bull-headed Shrike dining on grasshopper. Ducks: Eastern Spot-billed Duck 270, Eurasian Teal 55, Northern Shoveler 3. Also Eurasian Coot 280, Common Snipe 28, Ruddy Turnstone 1, Chinese Penduline Tit 75, Richard’s Pipit 25.

Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together I: Black-faced Spoonbill with Eurasian Spoonbill.
Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together I: Black-faced Spoonbill with Eurasian Spoonbill. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine and I recorded only 1 bunting all day: a single Chestnut-eared Bunting. Hengsha was bunting central last autumn, and almost exactly a year ago Elaine and I had seven Emberiza species in a single morning on Temple Mount on Lesser Yangshan.

Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together II: Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling.
Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together II: Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling. (Craig Brelsford)

In the past year, Elaine and I have seen Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling on three occasions in three widely separated locations. On 8 Nov. 2014 at Sì Hé Cūn (四合村) near Lake Poyang in Jiangxi, we found 80 Common Starling among 160 White-cheeked Starling; on 23 July 2015 at Wūlánnuò’ěr (乌兰诺尔) near Hulun Lake in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, we found 1 Common Starling among 15 White-cheeked Starling; and now this latest sighting. Common Starling is well-known to birders in Europe and North America (where it is an introduced species), and it is common in parts of western China, but in eastern China it is supposedly only a vagrant.

Beautiful 'Red-bellied Rock Thrush' Monticola solitarius philippensis, ssp. of Blue Rock Thrush. The species is locally common at coastal sites around Shanghai. It prefers rocky areas but can make do with concrete breakers set up along the shore. Here a female is perching atop an outhouse.
Beautiful ‘Red-bellied Rock Thrush’ Monticola solitarius philippensis, ssp. of Blue Rock Thrush. The species is locally common at coastal sites around Shanghai. It prefers rocky areas but can make do with concrete breakers set up along the shore. Here a female is perching atop an outhouse. (Craig Brelsford)
Elaine and I spent our final hour on Hengsha snipe watching. High-speed photography of flying snipe not only is pleasurable but also can be an aid to identification, as the camera captures details that the eye can miss. This is Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Nikon D3S, 600 mm + 1.4x TC, F8, 1/5000, ISO 12800 (that is correct: twelve thousand eight hundred!). Camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod.
Elaine and I spent our final hour on Hengsha snipe watching. High-speed photography of flying snipe not only is pleasurable but also can be an aid to identification, as the camera captures details that the eye can miss. This is Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Nikon D3S, 600 mm + 1.4x TC, F8, 1/5000, ISO 12800 (that is correct: twelve thousand eight hundred!). Camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod. (Craig Brelsford)

Hengsha is complicated to get to, and the reclaimed land where birders go lacks trees and thus forest birds. If it had even the microforests of Nanhui, then our total of 72 species might have been 80 to 90, and if in addition even a small part of the giant project were run as a nature reserve, then the list might have topped 100! Still, a day at Hengsha may be the single most interesting birding day available in Shanghai. The place has a remote, even wild feel, and the air is fresh.

Featured image: Elaine Du viewing birds on Hengsha Island. In the top-left corner of the image, the three white dots are 1 Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor associating with 2 Eurasian Spoonbill P. leucorodia.