“I have thought a lot about yesterday and can honestly say, it must be one of my all-time ornithological highlights.”
— Dr. Mike May, message to Craig Brelsford, 14 May 2017
Those are the words not of a new birder, but of a highly experienced visiting birder with thousands of birds on his life list who resides in bird-rich Extremadura, Spain.
Birding Pudong’s Cape Nanhui at the height of the spring migration left Mike May open-mouthed. Should anyone be surprised? The most southeasterly point of Shanghai is a world-class birding site.
Mike’s 92-species day, Sat. 13 May 2017, with Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén and me included ultra-rarities such as Orange-headed Thrush as well as Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler. A pair of sub-adult Black-faced Spoonbill were getting by on the ever-shrinking pools at the beleaguered site.
Let me say that again: Of the thousands of birding spots in this vast, mega-diverse nation, the cape 60 km southeast of People’s Square is second only to Baihualing in Yunnan in species noted.
Sound unbelievable? Let me say something even more unbelievable: Not only is this rich spot completely unprotected, with not even a square meter preserved in any legal way; but it is, to the contrary, being actively destroyed, even as I tap out these words.
The backdrop to the work of Mike, Jan-Erik, and me was fleets of bulldozers and backhoes, busy throughout the weekend. They clattered and clanged, and the pumps transferring water into the newly dug canals whirred and chugged.
The pace of transformation is faster than ever now.
“Nanhui is gone,” my partners and I said.
A major ecological area, a place combining ease of access to millions of residents of Earth’s largest city and a favorable position on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway, is being utterly transformed.
While the Cape Nanhui that I have long known falls, huge tracts of adjacent tidal mudflat are being reclaimed, adding dozens of square kilometers to the land area of Cape Nanhui. Birding there in theory could have a future. A Cape Nanhui Nature Reserve could be set up in the new area.
But even as the Cape Nanhui we know falls, no one, to my knowledge, has hastened to reassure conservationists that areas in the newly reclaimed land will be set aside for birds.
In the city-province of Shanghai, which is the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, a few places have indeed been set aside, among them Chongming Dongtan. But those reserves are small, on remote islands far from mainland Shanghai, and practically unreachable by the millions of middle-class Shanghainese who lack a car.
Cape Nanhui, by contrast, is easily reachable from the city. And it is the one place where masses of bird lovers can conveniently get a taste of the grand spectacle that is spring migration along the east coast of the Eurasian supercontinent.
That opportunity is being taken away, not only from the birders alive today, but also from the birders of the future.
THE THRILL OF NANHUI IN MAY
Our agony over the fate of Nanhui was tempered by the joy of birding. Orange-headed Thrush showed up Saturday at the Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229). With the two vertical bars on its face, our specimen was either of race melli (breeds Guangdong, etc.) or courtoisi (Anhui).
On Sunday the Magic Parking Lot delivered singing Grey-crowned WarblerSeicercus tephrocephalus, and in Microforest 2 (30.926013, 121.970705) an appearance was made by Alström’s WarblerS. soror. Neither breeds in the region; both are very rare vagrants to Shanghai.
Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883) gave us singing Yellow-breasted Bunting in full breeding finery and singing Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. I captured the latter’s song, rarely heard in Shanghai.
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler Helopsaltes certhiola, 13 May 2017, Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883) (00:13; 2.1 MB)
The Marshy Agricultural Land (30.850707, 121.863662) near Eiffel Tower was highly productive, yielding Lanceolated Warbler, Forest Wagtail, and Striated Heron.
Other highlights from Saturday along the 30-km stretch of coastline:
Shanghai Birding is the WeChat companion to this Web site. Our members include everyone from persons brand-new to birding to some of the most knowledgeable birders in China. We discuss everything from the most common species to the most arcane.
Here is an edited transcript of a recent conversation on Shanghai Birding about the Seicercus warblers at Cape Nanhui:
Paul Holt: Can you post your recording of yesterday’s [14 May 2017] Alström’s Warbler as well please, Craig?
Craig Brelsford: Will post after I get home. Meanwhile, have you assessed the recording I posted yesterday morning? Do you agree it’s Grey-crowned Warbler? Jonathan Martinez, I’d like your view, too!
Craig Brelsford had earlier posted these sound recordings:
Grey-crowned Warbler Seicercus tephrocephalus 1/3, 14 May 2017, Magic Parking Lot (30.884898, 121.968229), Nanhui (00:36; 3 MB)
Grey-crowned Warbler 2/3 (00:49; 3.6 MB)
Grey-crowned Warbler 3/3 (01:08; 4.3 MB)
PH: Yes, Grey-crowned Warbler!
PH: For what it’s worth, while there are probably 30+ records of “golden-spectacled warblers” from coastal Hebei, very, very few have been as well documented as Craig’s and team’s recent Grey-crowned. Many have been photographed but far fewer sound-recorded. Alström’s is so far the only one so far known to breed north of the Qinling Shan (it’s a scarce and very local breeder at two, possibly three, sites in Beijing). Personally I’ve never seen soror in coastal Hebei (nor am I aware of any being sound-recorded there), but I have noted (and sound-recorded) 2 Bianchi’s S. valentini and 1 Martens’s S. omeiensis in coastal Hebei. I understand that the only (?) three coastal Hebei birds that have been captured and had their DNA compared have all been omeiensis. We’re very, very far from ascertaining the true statuses of these Seicercus in our area, but you perhaps should/might see more in Shanghai and coastal Zhejiang. As many of you already know, there are some excellent sound recordings of these on Per’s site.
CB: Great analysis, Paul, and great that you point out the resources on Per’s site. Jan-Erik and I got good sound recordings of the purported soror yesterday, and Charles Wu and I got some good shots, among them images of the outer tail feathers, which definitely had some white in them.
PH: Excellent, Craig. As you know they’ve all got white in their outer tails. Alström’s (aka Plain-tailed) doesn’t have much …
CB: Right, Paul; thanks. The discussion yesterday was one of comparison and degree. How little must the white be in the tail, we were asking ourselves, for a Seicercus to “qualify” as Alström’s/Plain-tailed? Was the white in our photos a little or a lot? We ended up thinking a little, and that and the song we recorded led us to a determination of soror. I’ll post my photos and recordings as soon as I’m home.
PH: Personally, Craig, I find it very difficult to judge the amount and distribution of white on the tails of these Seicercus in the field and think that a good photo with the tail splayed would really be necessary. Even then, the differences are small and subtle. Tricky group!
Jonathan Martinez: Regarding the ID of these Seicercus, I have found that call is by far the easiest way to ID them. They all have a characteristic call. Some of them, like Alström’s or Bianchi’s, are usually quite vocal; others not as much. It requires much more experience or use of sonogram to ID them by song, but a few of them (Alström’s especially) include their call in their song, and some of them (Grey-crowned, Martens’s) include a trill in their song. Others do not (Alström, Bianchi’s). ID-ing them on plumage is, of course, a level up.
Here is the voice of the Alström’s Warbler that I recorded with my Olympus DM-650 pocket recorder:
Editor’s note: In recent weeks, Shanghai has had extraordinary visits by three species of crane. Since 12 Nov. 2016, 3 Siberian Crane, a Critically Endangered species, have been recorded regularly in a reclaimed area of Hengsha Island (photo above, left). On 10 Dec. 2016, Endangered Red-crowned Crane made the first recorded visit by that species to Cape Nanhui (top right). Also since 12 Nov. 2016, Vulnerable Hooded Crane has been recorded regularly at Cape Nanhui (bottom right). Before 12 Nov., Hooded Crane had never been recorded on the Shanghai Peninsula. Photos by Craig Brelsford.
The appearance on 10 Dec. 2016 of 2 Red-crowned Crane at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui was more than just a historic, first-ever sighting. It was a message. The endangered cranes, as well as the Siberian Crane on Hengsha Island and Hooded Crane at Cape Nanhui, are telling us that habitat is steadily disappearing elsewhere along the Chinese coast, particularly in Jiangsu; that the habitats in Shanghai are some of the best that remain; and that those habitats require world-class protection. The most pressing need is the creation of a world-class, small to mid-sized wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui.
Errant cranes migrating along the Chinese coast may once have settled for a while somewhere in Jiangsu. Every year, however, cranes migrating along the coast of that densely populated province find fewer and fewer places suitable to them. My wife Elaine Du and I have surveyed the Jiangsu coastline from Qidong on the Yangtze River 250 km north to Yancheng National Nature Reserve. We have seen with our own eyes the dramatic transformation of the Jiangsu coast. Even areas in Jiangsu receiving considerable international attention, such as Yangkou and the coastal areas of Dongtai, are under threat.
Cape Nanhui may not seem like a first-rate natural area, but it is in better condition than almost any place I have seen between Qidong and Yancheng. I say, therefore, that the recent crane sightings in Shanghai have come about in large part because elsewhere so much has been lost. The cranes have nowhere else to go.
And that is why conserving Cape Nanhui is so important. Shanghai is facing a crisis, a “danger-opportunity” (危机). The 危 or danger is that amid the wholesale destruction of so much coastal habitat elsewhere, Shanghai will follow suit and destroy its remaining good habitat. The 机 or opportunity is for Shanghai to gather into its bosom the birds ejected from Jiangsu–to be not only the economic but also the conservationist leader on the Chinese coast. The creation at Cape Nanhui of an easily accessible, world-class, small to mid-sized wetland reserve along the lines of Sungei Buloh in Singapore would be a way of avoiding the 危 and seizing the 机.
The case for an easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could scarcely be more clear-cut:
(1) Cape Nanhui is of extraordinary environmental importance. The tip of the Shanghai Peninsula between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay, Cape Nanhui is a stepping stone for birds migrating across those bodies of water. Cape Nanhui also holds large reed beds, habitat critical to Reed Parrotbill and other species at risk.
Nature reserves have been established only on the extreme fringes of the city-province (which is a third the size of Wales). There are no reserves in mainland Pudong, a giant coastal district nearly twice the size of Singapore. Nowhere in this megalopolis can residents without a car enjoy the natural side of Shanghai, a city with an extraordinarily rich natural heritage. There is no known plan to conserve any of the dozens of square kilometers of reclaimed land on Hengsha.
(3) Because it is in the back yard of Shanghai, a city-province of more than 25 million people, a well-run, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could be the match to light the fire of conservation across all China.
Hundreds of thousands of children could visit the reserve with their parents using nothing more than the Metro and a quick taxi ride and be sleeping in their own bed that night, dreaming about the wild birds they had seen that day. For millions of parents and their kids, the weekend could be “Saturday, Disney; Sunday, Cape Nanhui Wetland.” A day at a Cape Nanhui Wetland would be an early introduction to the glories of natural Shanghai and would foster an appreciation of the natural world.
If Shanghai can be a world economic center and have world-class airports and a world-class skyline and world-class entertainment such as Disney, then it can and must have world-class preservation of its priceless coastline and migratory birds.
I repeat: The case for a world-class, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui is clear-cut.
111 SPECIES AT CORE SHANGHAI SITES
Elaine and I birded four of the eight days between 3 Dec. and 10 Dec. 2016, noting 111 species. We birded three days at Cape Nanhui, half a day on Hengsha Island, and half a day at Binjiang Forest Park in Pudong. On 10 Dec. Elaine and I led a group of members of the Shanghai Birding WeChat group on a tour of Nanhui. We birded the other days with Shanghai-based U.K. birder Michael Grunwell and U.S. birder Susan Lessner.
Major highlights were 2 Red-crowned Crane and Hooded Crane at Cape Nanhui and 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha as well as Baikal Teal and Red-breasted Flycatcher at Nanhui and Ferruginous Duck on Hengsha.
Nanhui also gave us three-day counts of 20 VulnerableSwan Goose, 14 Greater White-fronted Goose, 190 Tundra Swan (bewickii), 255 Common Shelduck, 11 Greater Scaup, 4 Black-necked Grebe, Brown Crake, VulnerableSaunders’s Gull, 2 Mew GullLarus canus, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull (heuglini), late Eurasian Wryneck, uncommon winter visitor Dusky Warbler, 22 Near ThreatenedReed Parrotbill, and 2 extralimital Common Starling.
Hengsha gave us a rare Shanghai sighting of adult-male Hen Harrier as well as 3 Chinese Grey Shrike and impressive numbers of buntings. In a single stretch of scrub just 500 m long, we counted 14 Little Bunting, 18 Rustic Bunting, 17 Yellow-throated Bunting, 4 Black-faced Bunting, and 150 Pallas’s Reed Bunting.
Binjiang Forest Park once again proved to be one of the only places in urban Shanghai where Great Spotted Woodpecker is reliable. Thrushes were numerous, with Naumann’s Thrush leading the list.
Elaine Du and I birded five of the eight days from Thurs. 24 Nov. through Thurs. 1 Dec. 2016. We noted 119 species. We did the Shanghai Grand Tour, covering Zhongshan Park, a small, inner-city park; Binjiang Forest Park and Binhai Forest Park, large, suburban parks; the coastal areas at Cape Nanhui; Hengsha Island; and Chongming Island. We birded one of the days with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and two days with Phil Birch.
We had 3 Siberian Crane and 8 Mandarin Duck on Hengsha, 98 Hooded Crane at their normal wintering spot on Chongming Island, 5 Baikal Teal and Japanese Grosbeak at Cape Nanhui, and 51 Swan Goose at Nanhui and on Chongming. Black-faced Spoonbill were present in diminished numbers at Nanhui and on Hengsha.
Nanhui gave us Common Shelduck, Greater Scaup, Black-necked Grebe at Dishui Lake, and Brown-cheeked Rail near Iron Track. Eurasian Curlew were foraging on mud near 3 Black-tailed Godwit and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. At a high-tide roost in the defunct nature reserve, a single late Red-necked Stint stood out among 600 Dunlin. We found 2 Bluethroat at a new location north of the Dazhi River. Reed Parrotbill maintained their regular presence around Iron Track, and we found 4 Rustic Bunting at Binhai Forest Park, 4 km inland from the coastal birding areas at Nanhui.
Hensgha also gave us Common Merganser, late Intermediate Egret, 2 Hair-crested Drongo, and 1 of our 2 Chinese Grey Shrike (the other was at Nanhui). Chongming yielded 3 Common Crane with the Hooded Crane as well as Northern Lapwing, 3 juv. Rook, and 35 Lapland Longspur.
Binjiang Forest Park added to our list Great Spotted Woodpecker, a species that in Shanghai’s parks is reliable only at Binjiang and Century Park. We had 3 Hawfinch, Collared Finchbill, and 3 Naumann’s Thrush.
— In recent days at its special site (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, Yellow-breasted Bunting was not found on two occasions. We found it there six times throughout most of November.
— Yellow-throated Bunting and most other woodland birds were absent from the Cape Nanhui microforests. The leaves of the locust trees in the microforests have fallen, the undergrowth has died off, and the woodsy feel has faded even at large Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083). Eurasian Tree Sparrow have invaded some of the microforests. We found Pallas’s Reed Bunting in Microforest 4 but neither Red-flanked Bluetail nor White’s Thrush.
— Japanese Grosbeak found in Magic Parking Lot 28 Nov. provided my longest and best view ever of the species. I appreciated its large size, like a thrush; I noted its half-hood and completely yellow bill; and I observed its single white spot on the primaries.
Featured image: Siberian Crane at the newly reclaimed extension of Hengsha Island, 29 Nov. 2016. The cranes have been at this spot (31.321708, 122.018141) since at least 12 Nov. 2016. It is not known exactly what drew the cranes to Hengsha. Disturbances at Lake Poyang, the wintering location of nearly every member of the species, may be a factor. Since 2000 Leucogeranus leucogeranus has been listed as Critically Endangered. Only about 3750 individuals remain. (Craig Brelsford)
Editor’s note: This tranquil scene is from Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), home of Reed Parrotbill and dozens of other species, and part of the large reed beds on the Dazhi River at Cape Nanhui. In the face of manic development, and in spite of being under no protection, Cape Nanhui conserves the best reed beds on the Shanghai Peninsula as well as mudflats critical to tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds. To save these treasures, Shanghai people must act now.
Who will save Cape Nanhui? Not foreigners like me, but the people of Shanghai. We foreigners are numerous in Shanghai and are disproportionately represented among the birders here. We can offer valuable perspectives. But if the people of Shanghai themselves do not wish to ensure a bright natural future for Cape Nanhui, then there is little that anyone can do.
I think that the people of Shanghai are ready for real conservation on the Shanghai mainland. Basic conservationist ideas have broad appeal, and an easily accessible, world-class, “people’s wetland reserve” at Cape Nanhui is a basic conservationist idea.
If I were Chinese and were arguing for a people’s wetland reserve for Cape Nanhui, then I would bring to light the following points.
SHANGHAI IS NOT A CITY IN THE CONVENTIONAL SENSE
Shanghai “市” isn’t really a city or a “municipality,” as 市 is often translated. It is a city-province, accountable to no government but the national government. The city-province is vast, covering an area greater than the U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island. Shanghai is twice as big as Luxembourg, half as large as Northern Ireland, and a third the size of Wales.
From a conservationist’s perspective, it is important to view Shanghai as a province and not a city, because cities are not usually thought of as being responsible for maintaining large nature reserves within their borders. Provinces, by contrast, are large enough to accommodate nature reserves.
I propose that, where workable, we stop referring to Shanghai as a city or municipality and start applying to it the more accurate label of city-province.
SHANGHAI OCCUPIES LAND UNUSUALLY IMPORTANT TO CONSERVATION
Any jurisdiction covering an area the size of a small country would be expected to conserve substantial amounts of its area. In the case of Shanghai, the call to conserve is even louder, because the area it occupies is unusually important for conservation. The Shanghai Peninsula is situated between the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and Hangzhou Bay. It is on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and attracts tens of thousands of passage migrants representing a few hundred species.
Cape Nanhui is the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula and attracts passage migrants and winter visitors such as the Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Its large reed beds are the final stronghold on the Shanghai Peninsula of Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill, a candidate for Shanghai Provincial Bird, as well as Near Threatened Marsh Grassbird.
Cape Nanhui is completely unprotected; indeed, an attempt at a small wetland reserve has been shut down. The boardwalks and signs of the defunct reserve are crumbling, and the backhoes are standing by, waiting for the green light to smash what remains.
SHANGHAI, AN ENVIRONMENTAL UNDER-PERFORMER
No one is saying that Shanghai, a city-province of 26 million people, needs to create a Yellowstone. Any reasonable person understands the pressures the huge population of Shanghai puts on its natural resources.
Also, it must be pointed out that in the far-flung areas of the city-province, Shanghai has made an attempt at conservation. Chongming Dongtan preserves the eastern nub of Chongming Island, and Jiuduansha covers intertidal shoals near Pudong Airport.
But Shanghai under-performs overall. Nowhere is the poor conservation performance more evident than in Pudong, the coastal city-within-a-city. Pudong is nearly double the size of Singapore and is half the size of Hong Kong. Yet the district contains zero wetland reserves on its mainland. Both Singapore and Hong Kong manage to hold in reserve significant portions of their territory.
The southeastern tip of Pudong is Cape Nanhui, a place that despite being under no protection still brims with natural treasures. No place on the Shanghai Peninsula has as many reed beds. The projection of land attracts birds making the long journey across Hangzhou Bay and the wide mouth of the Yangtze.
Moreover, Cape Nanhui is easily accessible to common people. It would be the perfect place for a world-class wetland reserve on the model of Sungei Buloh in Singapore and Yeyahu National Wetland Park in Beijing.
On shanghaibirding.com I have addressed the issue of conserving Nanhui:
We foreigners have had much to say about the future of Nanhui. I would like to hear more from Chinese. Is the case for a world-class wetland reserve at Nanhui convincing to you? If so, then what do you propose to do to bring it about?
Editor’s note: The photo above shows Hooded Crane flying above fields at Nanhui on 12 Nov. 2016. Before our sighting, Grus monacha had never been recorded on the Shanghai Peninsula. Each year, about 100 Hooded Crane overwinter on eastern Chongming Island, 60 km north of Nanhui at the mouth of the Yangtze River.
Elaine Du and I birded three of the four days between Sat. 12 Nov. and Tues. 15 Nov. 2016. We noted 105 species. On Saturday we had the first-ever record in Nanhui of Hooded Crane. We also found Baikal Teal on Saturday as well as Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra Swan, and Jack Snipe. Sunday was also spent at the coastal site in Pudong and gave us calling Brown-cheeked Rail as well as Hair-crested Drongo and late Rufous-tailed Robin. Other weekend Nanhui records were EndangeredBlack-faced Spoonbill holding steady at the defunct nature reserve (30.920500, 121.973167), Amur Falcon feasting on gnats small enough for leaf warblers, an uncommon Shanghai record of Water Pipit, and two more sightings of EndangeredYellow-breasted Bunting at its increasingly reliable site (30.850707, 121.863662). On Tuesday at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park (31.221888, 121.420066) we had a very late Narcissus Flycatcher.
ELAINE’S FEAT OF BIRDING
The flyby sighting of Hooded Crane was Elaine’s finest hour. Michael Grunwell was in the back seat and, blinded by the roof, would have never seen the crane. I was busy driving along a very uncertain dirt track. We see so many Grey Heron at Nanhui, and it is so easy to disregard them, and sure enough two of the three birds flying together were Grey Heron. But one was not, and Elaine caught it.
Elaine got her first pair of binoculars in 2013 and is now making big discoveries. “You’ve come a long way, baby!”
Thanks to Shanghai birder Xiao Cao for his knowledge of species histories in Shanghai. It was he who told us that our Hooded Crane was a first record for mainland Shanghai.
JACK SNIPE AT IRON TRACK
The experience with Jack Snipe occurred Saturday near dark at Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883). Our partner Michael Grunwell, Elaine, and I were looking for Brown-cheeked Rail. The snipe sneezed when flushed, flew to a towering height in a tighter formation than is typical in Common Snipe, and after all the fuss ended up landing only 150 m from where they had started.
When the snipe began their flight, I figured they were Common and continued looking for rails. Then I heard Michael cry out, “Possible Jack!” The snipe flew directly over us. The bill was noticeably shorter than the bill of the Common I have come to know. Elaine too saw the short bill.
The three of us feel confident in our record of Jack Snipe and urge others to be on the lookout for this species. Get pictures if you can.
Iron Track is part of the extensive reed-bed habitat lining the Dazhi River (大治河). It provides excellent habitat for Chinese Pond Heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Brown-cheeked Rail (and possibly Water Rail), wintering Bluethroat, and wintering Jack Snipe. Reed Parrotbill is resident.
The beds are on either side of the river, are unlikely to be developed, and are in good condition. They are a remnant of the habitat that used to cover the entire area.
YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTING IN SHANGHAI
As reported above, on Saturday with Michael and yet again on Sunday our site near Luchao delivered Yellow-breasted Bunting. The site is at 30.850694, 121.863667. We are now five-for-five in sightings of Yellow-breasted Bunting since our Nov. 5 discovery of the species there.
It will be interesting to see how long into the winter the Yellow-breasted Bunting remain. I hope they stay awhile, because it is unlikely any of the locals will catch ’n’ roast ’em. (The greatest factor in the endangerment of Emberiza aureola is massive poaching of the species for snacks in south China.)
Recently the site has yielded Black-browed Reed Warbler and Chestnut-eared Bunting and a late record of Barn Swallow. An un-ID’d rail has been spotted twice in the area.
To get to the site, from Luchao drive 1.5 km north from the bend in the road north of the canal, where the road begins to run parallel with the sea. Pull onto the unpaved track and park on the bridge of white cement. The buntings seem to be concentrated a few dozen meters south, near the place where picnickers dumped a big load of trash. Be on the lookout for individuals flying into the narrow reed bed after foraging runs in the adjacent rice paddies.
ID’ING BROWN-CHEEKED RAIL ON CALL
On Sunday at Nanhui we positively identified 2 Brown-cheeked Rail on call. Here is the recording I made (00:28; 2.7 MB):
The pitch matches closely the pitch in the recordings by Anon Torimi of rails assigned to Rallus indicus. I downloaded Torimi’s recordings from xeno-canto.org. I invite Shanghai birders to do the same. Get to know the sounds of both R. indicus and the extralimital R. aquaticus and start adding these species to your own Shanghai lists.
AMUR FALCON CATCHING GNATS
On Saturday we were amazed to see Amur Falcon catching flies with their talons. We had five near Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074). In top left of the three-panel photo above, the falcon has spotted its prey and is accelerating toward it. In bottom left, the gnat is visible as the falcon zeroes in. At right, the falcon raises its talons for its tiny prey.
The instinct to use its talons is inefficient in this case and shows that Amur Falcon has evolved to hunt larger game. Smaller aerialists such as swifts, nightjars, swallows, and flycatchers snatch up their prey directly with the mouth.
PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF CONSERVATIONISM
I saw the car with lettering saying “Pudong TV” and waved the journalists over. I told them I had something they might want to hear. Echoing my recent post Save Nanhui, I told the pair that Shanghai can have it all. It can be a world financial hub and China’s greatest metropolis and be a green city. It can follow Hong Kong and Singapore and develop a world-class urban wetland reserve easily accessible to nature lovers without their own car. Nanhui’s old wetland, I said, pointing to the defunct reserve behind us, could be the site of such a reserve.
As I talked, a small crowd gathered. Most seemed supportive of my ideas. I was not surprised. A world-class wetland at Nanhui is a basic conservationist idea, and basic conservationist ideas have broad appeal.
The flycatcher was attracted by mealworms speared by photographers onto a soft steel wire. The wire was hung from a branch, enticing the flycatcher to hover to snatch the bait. The bird was appearing every 10 minutes.
I expressed concern but did not feel the need to be critical or intervene. The photographers obviously liked the flycatcher, did not think that they were harming it, and were enjoying themselves immensely.
I watched the flycatcher attack the mealworms. I think it unlikely that the wire would harm the bird. The bigger problem may be that the free protein will keep the bird here an unnaturally long time. A passage migrant through Earth’s largest city, Narcissus Flycatcher should be in Borneo by now.
INTERESTING WECHAT EXCHANGE ON ARCTIC WARBLER
Shanghai Birding is the WeChat companion to shanghaibirding.com. In it, we exchange real-time reports and engage in discussions about birding in Shanghai and all China.
A discussion on 10 Nov. about Arctic Warbler showed the utility to birders of social media in general and Shanghai Birding in particular. Members Jonathan Martinez (based in Shenzhen) and Paul Holt (based in Beijing) shared their knowledge about Arctic Warbler and its sister species. In so doing, they shed light on the situation, still very imperfectly understood, of the Arctic-type complex in Shanghai.
Holt led off:
Paul Holt (PH): I see from a recent posting that @李伟 photographed an Arctic Warbler at Nanhui on the 28 October. Great images! Isn’t that extremely late? The latest ever Beijing record’s over two weeks earlier than that.
I then posted a long list of my Arctic-type records from autumn 2014 and autumn 2015. In the list, I bunched together all members of the Arctic Warbler Complex (Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis borealis and P. b. kennicotti, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler P. examinandus, and Japanese Leaf Warbler P. xanthodryas). I list all three species because, although it is presumed that the vast majority of spring and autumn records in Shanghai pertain to borealis, it is far from certain what the proportions are. (Arctic Warbler and its sister species are nearly impossible to separate on morphology but are distinguishable by voice.)
The latest autumn record I had of an Arctic-type warbler was 24 Oct. (2015).
Holt wrote back:
PH: Thanks @Craig (大山雀) Unless I’m missing something 28 October is later than any of the records you cite (but just by four days). Could it be that the Nanhui sighting is Shanghai’s latest ever? Also it’s interesting that you mention all three species. Have any of your region’s Arctic-types been identified to a species other than borealis?
Craig Brelsford (CB): @Paul Holt I have not recorded anything other than borealis around Shanghai. (All confirmed borealis records are of individuals singing in spring.) I also suspect that a record of xanthodryas is next to impossible in Shanghai. I am aware that citing all three names is not a perfect solution. I list all three species because I believe information is insufficient. No one knows how many Arctic-type in Shanghai are borealis and how many examinandus. Very basic facts about the species in east-central China are unclear. Maybe someday studies will confirm that an Arctic-type in east-central China is borealis, with a probability of 99%. In that case, I would probably assign any silent Arctic-type I saw to borealis. Do you have any suggestions?
A few minutes later, I added:
CB: Just remembered that Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I had Arctic-type this past Sat. 5 Nov. We got a good look at the bird, too. October was a warm, wet month in Shanghai, and the entire fall migration season seems to be late a week or two. Would others here agree?
PH: I’ve never seen xanthodryas in mainland China, have only ever encountered two examinandus (which were the first records for Liaoning & Hebei. Both sound recorded) here & have too little to go on I’m afraid @Craig (大山雀). Personally I log everything as Arctic Warbler by default, though that’s far from perfect. Until more of us work on this awkward group & make an effort to sound-record them, it’ll be a long time yet before a truer picture of their patterns of occurrence emerges. Cracking late record last weekend @Craig (大山雀). Surely that must be a good candidate for being the latest ever.
CB: @Paul Holt Maybe for simplicity’s sake I should log everything as Arctic. I have hesitated because I dislike speculation, and besides your very reliable records from up north I have little else to go on.
At this Martinez came in with his south-China perspective:
Jonathan Martinez (JM): I’ve heard xanthodryas on Fujian coast in early May and had a bird caught in October at Xitou identified as xanthodryas by DNA on tail feathers among about 15 borealis. I found an examinandus in central Guangxi in September, first suspected by call on a bird wave and clearly identified with call a few days later. I suspect examinandus is not a coastal migrant and probably goes through mainland China. I think still the only species recorded in Hong Kong is borealis, despite many looking for these.
CB: Thanks! With a confirmed xanthodryas in Fujian and examinandus only “suspected” not to use the Chinese coast, I’ll keep my clunky three-species listing. Arctic-type Warbler in China is a subject crying out for more research.
Did you know that the birding area at Nanhui is a cape? This is an aspect of Nanhui that perhaps requires more discussion. The 30-km stretch of coastline is the southeastern-most point of Pudong as well as of the entire city-province of Shanghai.
Cape Nanhui (I like the ring of that) juts out between the mouth of the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. The cape aspect of Nanhui makes it even more valuable to migrating birds than regular coastline. Nanhui is a stepping stone, catching birds that have just made a non-stop crossing of the mouth of the Yangtze River (in fall) or a non-stop crossing of Hangzhou Bay (in spring).
I also find it interesting that one never hears of the “Shanghai Peninsula.” It’s a term with explanatory power. Although rather nubby, the Shanghai Peninsula is clearly a promontory between the mouth of the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the promontory.
If conservationists talk about a nature reserve for “Cape Nanhui,” the tip of the “Shanghai Peninsula,” then maybe they will have a stronger case.
A NOTE FROM TOMMY PEDERSEN
Tommy Pedersen is a pilot with Emirates. He is Norwegian and has been based in Dubai for many years. An accomplished birder, Tommy created uaebirding.com. This outstanding site is the best introduction to birding in the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Peninsula.
Tommy recently sent a message to shanghaibirding.com:
I had a work flight to Shanghai 9-11 November 2016, and following Craig’s excellent site, I decided to visit Nanhui.
I booked a room at Holiday Inn Express (no English spoken, cold and drafty rooms), close to the Magic Parking Lot and Nanhui Nature Reserve. Two targets: Saunders’s Gull and Reed Parrotbill.
On Day 1, 9 November, I was extremely lucky and bumped into Craig and Elaine with Erica, who took me to the nature reserve. We had a jolly good time (at least I was), and Saunders’s Gulls were soon spotted (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32503941).
Gadwall Anas strepera 8
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 30
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 8
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 150
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 2
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Cormorant Eurasian Phalacrocorax carbo 40
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 100
Great Egret A. alba 30
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 60
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 17
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 15
Eurasian/Black-faced Spoonbill P. leucorodia/minor 30
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 2
Water/Brown-cheeked Rail R. aquaticus/indicus 3
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 3
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 4
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 3
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 14
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 2
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus 80
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 5
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 3
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 3
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3
Amur Falcon F. amurensis 1
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1 Falco sp. 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 40
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 1 singing
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 8
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus 4
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 25
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 18
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 4
Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 4
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 18
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 35
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 10
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 7
Japanese Thrush Turdus cardis 5
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 6
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 4
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 19
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 18
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 150
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana 8
White Wagtail M. alba 14
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens 80
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 7
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 2
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 3
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 3
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 14
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 16
List 1 of 1 for Tues. 15 Nov. 2016 (16 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Changning District, Shanghai. Partly cloudy. Low 12° C, high 17° C. Humidity 62%. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 93 (moderate). Sunrise 06:22, sunset 16:55. TUE 15 NOV 2016 13:00-15:00. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 5
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 1
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 3
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 4
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 3
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 4
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 2
Editor’s note: The photos above record the moment when I first beheld Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The date was 23 Aug. 2011; the place was Yangkou, a major stopover point for Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Jiangsu; and the bird was this adult, still with a considerable amount of its rufous breeding plumage. Since then I have had numerous encounters with the critically endangered species. The most recent was Thurs. 3 Nov. 2016, when I achieved one of my most sustained views (nearly 30 minutes) and first view in Shanghai of one of the rarest vertebrates on the planet. In this post, I describe the encounter at Cape Nanhui with Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and I decorate the post with photos I have taken of the species over the years. — Craig Brelsford
On Thurs. 3 Nov. 2016 Elaine Du and I found Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Cape Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Pudong. A single SBS was associating with a flock of 2600 waders in mud near the entrance to the defunct nature reserve. The SBS site is 4.3 km north of the Holiday Inn, and its coordinates are 30.921616, 121.969776.
I have been viewing Spoon-billed Sandpiper a few times each year since 2011. Since 2013, Elaine has been with me. We know what to look for, and at this time of year when we see a large flock of small waders, the possibility of finding Spoon-billed Sandpiper is always on our mind.
Seated, as is my wont, on the access road, my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope atop my tripod in front of me, I was scanning the flock of 2600 waders, looking for anomalies. The great majority (1920) of the birds were Dunlin, with Kentish Plover (620) the other major component.
I saw a bird that was one of a kind. It was not associating with Kentish Plover or Dunlin. Unlike the plovers and Dunlin, which were resting and preening, the bird I was viewing was feeding. It was moving quickly and covering much ground.
The constant movement, like a wind-up toy, reminded me of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper I have viewed at Yangkou and Dongtai. The speed at which the bird ran fit the pattern, as did the average length of sprint. The bird would occasionally take a short flight. When it flew, the bird showed the white sides to its uppertail coverts.
The foregoing did not prove Spoon-billed Sandpiper—other species such as Red-necked Stint share some of those characters. What I needed was a close view. Unfortunately, the galaxy of shorebirds was spread out between me and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and the SBS was obviously shying away. Finally the bird moved to within 150 meters of the road. Even through the heat haze, the scope brought home the trademark spatulate bill.
It is only somewhat surprising that Spoon-billed Sandpiper should be at Nanhui in early November. First, Spoon-billed Sandpiper quit the stopover sites in Jiangsu around the end of October and early November. The Nanhui bird may have been one of them, and it may have stopped off in Shanghai for a quick refueling break as it heads south.
Second, as more and more of the Chinese coast is gobbled up by development, places such as the wetland at Nanhui, abandoned and gravely threatened as it is, take on greater and greater importance to migrating shorebirds. With so few places left for them, migrating waders pool in whatever hospitable area they can find. Small wonder, then, that in recent weeks the abandoned reserve has yielded EndangeredNordmann’s Greenshank and ultra-rarities such as Pomarine Jaeger and that the site is depended on by about 2 percent of the world’s EndangeredBlack-faced Spoonbill.
IUCN lists Spoon-billed Sandpiper as Critically Endangered. Only 500 to 800 of these birds are thought to exist. Excessive development along the Chinese coast is one of the main causes of its decline. Last month, in Will the Spoon Survive?, I discussed coastal development and the future of Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Earlier this week I published Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve! On Thursday at the defunct reserve, I saw yet again more than 50 Black-faced Spoonbill—by some measures, 2 percent of the world population of that endangered species. And I got to thinking again.
In many countries, once it was established that 2 percent of the world population of an endangered bird was relying on a site, then it would be game over, proclaim the site a nature reserve—no matter how valuable the land was. The rhetorical question would be, “To what better use could the land possibly be put?”
The local people would forgo the cash that would have been generated by the development of the land. They would say, “We can’t develop every last square meter, after all.” They would cradle Black-faced Spoonbill to their bosom.
At the site, further discoveries would be made. Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, two critically endangered species, also use the site. Great Knot, yet another endangered species, was there Thursday. Rarities like Pomarine Jaeger sometimes appear.
Those species would find refuge in Earth’s largest city. They would have a permanent base in mainland Pudong. They would be the pride of Nanhui.
The easily accessible site would become internationally known, like Mai Po in Hong Kong and Sungei Buloh in Singapore. Tourists would make trips to Shanghai—and on their visa application, under “purpose of visit,” write, “birdwatching.” Elementary schools would take field trips there. The kids would love it!
The current reality is this. When I first started going to Nanhui back in 2008, Black-faced Spoonbill almost always were hundreds of meters away. They would occasionally appear in the canal at the base of the sea wall. If you so much as stopped your car, they would stop feeding. If you opened your door, they would fly a long way away.
Now, in the defunct nature reserve, many of them are feeding right next to the access road. When you stop your car, they keep feeding. When you open your door, they fly 30 m back and start feeding again.
Have spoonbills lost their fear of man? Or, amid the shrinking of the local habitat, are they so desperate for a feed that they have lost their instinct to flee?
Editor’s note: The photo leading off this post shows an abandoned sign introducing Ruddy Turnstone that has been turned into a wall of a shack in the abandoned nature reserve at Nanhui. On 29 Oct. 2016 in the marshy land just behind the sign were 54 Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, an Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, a Near Threatened Red Knot, 2 Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull, and a score of other species. In the essay below, I argue that the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui should be brought back to life and converted into a world-class wetland, like Sungei Buloh in Singapore. — Craig Brelsford
I like to extol the city in which I have spent the past nine years. I like to tell people about the green side of Shanghai, the city at the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway. How exciting it is to bird in Earth’s largest city.
I see in Shanghai an opportunity to show the rest of China how to cherish its natural heritage. The people of Shanghai can teach China and the world to view nature as an asset. They can do this by creating an easily accessible wetland reserve at Nanhui.
Shanghai already is an environmental leader, in a way. My wife Elaine Du and I have toured the 330 km (205 mi.) stretch of coast from Nanhui to Yancheng in Jiangsu. Remaining mudflats and wetlands are very few–and some of the best are not those found in the less-populated areas but those found in the megalopolis of Shanghai. Eastern Chongming Island enjoys considerable protection, and there is Jiuduansha (31.166667, 121.925000), intertidal wetland shoals in the sea near Pudong Airport.
The problem with Jiuduansha especially and to a lesser extent Chongming Dongtan is that they are not easily accessible. The next step for Shanghai is a nature reserve easily accessed by the people, along the lines of the Mai Po Marshes in Hong Kong and Sungei Buloh in Singapore.
It is amazing to me that such a reserve was not in the master plans for Pudong when the New Area was conceived. Pudong is big–it covers 1210 sq. km (467 sq. mi.), nearly twice the size of Singapore. Within this New Area you have the world-class urban architecture and business districts around Lujiazui, you now have world-class family entertainment at the Shanghai Disney Resort–and you have world-class wildlife, the natural inheritance of the city, waiting on the coast, ready to be preserved, experienced, and loved. There is moreover the example of other Asian megacities such as the aforementioned two that found room for wildlife–and that wear their urban reserves as a badge of civic pride.
Mai Po and Sungei Buloh are easily reachable by bus. In Shanghai, the Metro already reaches Lingang New City, and a cheap, fast taxi ride gets you from Dishui Lake Station to Nanhui’s abandoned wetland reserve 8 km away (at 30.920507, 121.973159). The infrastructure for an accessible “people’s nature reserve” is in place, and the birds are there at Nanhui, crying out for real, lasting protection.
Sungei Buloh is a particularly good example for Pudong, as Sungei Buloh is about the same size (1.3 sq. km) as the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui (1.2 sq. km). Like Nanhui’s defunct reserve, Sungei Buloh was not originally considered a likely place for a nature reserve. Sungei Buloh was willed into being by the actions of local nature lovers who understood the value of the site. Likewise, a change of heart and an act of will can bring the abandoned reserve at Nanhui back from the brink.
The sight of Nanhui’s defunct reserve, which apparently just missed being dredged and drained this year, and which could well be torn up next year, saddens me–not just because of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill that so obviously rely on the place, and not only for the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank that has been living there–but also for the grandchildren of the people currently making the decisions, who may have these treasures denied them, and who may fail to appreciate the natural heritage of this great city.
The development plans for Pudong in general and Nanhui and Lingang New City in particular need to have a major component dedicated to conservation. Jiuduansha is simply not enough for Pudong. Those mud banks, barely above sea level, are a place for researchers, not the public. To meet the standard set by other coastal megacities, Pudong needs an easily accessible nature reserve on its mainland. That defunct nature reserve is just the place.
I think some local people realize the dire situation at Nanhui, and I understand that local birders had much to do with the one-year stay of execution granted the abandoned nature reserve. Those birders deserve everyone’s thanks.
I think I speak for many foreigners when I say to my Shanghai conservationist friends: If you need our support, then we will give it to you. Ideas, a pat on the back, anything–we’re here. 加油!