70 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

On Sat. 7 Nov. 2015 our birding Dream Team noted 70 species. Nanhui once again outshone Lesser Yangshan, yielding 12 Black-faced Spoonbill and Dalmatian Pelican. Japanese Thrush were particularly abundant, with a count of 37. A juvenile Rook, uncommon in Shanghai, flew by briefly, and we noted 3 Reed Parrotbill.

At Nanhui we noted 37 Japanese Thrush, a high for me at that location. I paid particular attention to the females, shown here, as they are even more shy than the males.
At Nanhui we noted 37 Japanese Thrush, a high for me at that location. I paid particular attention to the females, shown here, as they are even more shy than the males. (Craig Brelsford)

The unseasonably warm day began on Lesser Yangshan. We saw two sizable flocks of Brambling, noted Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Black Kite, and found singing Meadow Bunting, territorial even in November.

At the Magic Parking Lot in Nanhui, we waited with the photographers for a smart male Siberian Rubythroat before driving down to the empty, blue-roofed building. The scrubby fields near the building produced 7 Japanese Quail as well as Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, the Rook, and several of the Japanese Thrush. In the nearby microforests, Japanese Thrush and Eyebrowed Thrush were massing in big flocks, underscoring the importance of those woodsy oases amid the reeds and rice fields that cover most of the area.

Exhausted from the heat, we sat down in Microforest 1 to rest. This was a good decision, as the quiet sitting allowed shyer birds to appear from the reeds just behind the trees. Among these were Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler and the Reed Parrotbills. A Brambling loitered on the forest floor, grooming itself. A Siskin, too hungry to care about us, picked at a seed head just meters away. Red-flanked Bluetail and Daurian Redstart foraged right at our feet.

At the Magic GPS Point, a Pale Thrush flew into a window at the garishly large, completely empty building next to the Holiday Inn. I picked up the unconscious bird, an adult male. The thrush had flown hundreds of kilometers to get to Nanhui, but it was exquisite, a beautiful specimen, flawless and clean. I stroked the incredibly soft, smooth feathers, marveling at their beauty. We snapped pictures of the outer tail feathers showing the white tip, important for ID’ing Pale Thrushes in flight. We set it down in a flower bed next to the rotten carcass of a Black-capped Kingfisher that doubtlessly had met its end by flying into the same huge windows. We feared the thrush was dead, but to our surprise, when we came back a while later, the thrush had disappeared. Few Chinese pick up dead birds, and I’ve never seen cats in the area, so it is highly possible that the thrush survived the collision and went on its way.

Holding this Pale Thrush, feeling its body heat, admiring its pristine plumage, flawless despite the long flight from northeast Asia–what a moving experience. We thought we had lost this adult male, but when we returned later and saw no bird, we were filled with hope.
Holding this Pale Thrush, feeling its body heat, admiring its pristine plumage, flawless despite the long flight from northeast Asia–what a moving experience. We thought we had lost this adult male, but when we returned later and saw no bird, we were filled with hope. (Craig Brelsford)

The Rook, a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region, required some analysis; it was a good thing I got photos. Looking at the photos on my MacBook, I had the following thought process: (1) Bill, forehead much unlike Large-billed. (2) Is our bird therefore Carrion Crow or juvenile Rook? (3) Mark Brazil (Birds of East Asia) has Rook as a winter visitor to Shanghai region but has Carrion Crow no further S than Hebei. Elaine and I also have experience with Rook in this region; we noted 2 Rook on Lesser Yangshan on 20 Sept. 2014. We have never noted Carrion Crow in the region. (4) My photos clearly show a crow with a straight culmen, not decurved like that of Carrion–a straight culmen being a classic feature of Rook.

This bird has a culmen less decurved than that of Carrion Crow, leading me to believe that it is a juvenile Rook.
This bird has a culmen less decurved than that of Carrion Crow, leading me to believe that it is a juvenile Rook. (Craig Brelsford)

The all-black crows are uncommon in Shanghai. Whenever birders see an all-black crow in this area, we should take it seriously and try hard for an ID. Many birders find crows boring, but Rook in Shanghai is one of the most interesting records we had that day.

The Dream Team consists of veteran birder Michael Grunwell, husband-and-wife team Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, Elaine, and me. With Michael’s knowledge and Xueping and Elaine’s diligence, and with Stephan and me taking care of the record shots, the Dream Team almost always nails the ID.

Eyebrowed Thrush breeds from central Siberia to Kamchatka and winters from south China to Indonesia. These graceful birds have already come a long way, and they still have far to go.
Eyebrowed Thrush breeds from central Siberia to Kamchatka and winters from south China to Indonesia. These graceful birds have already come a long way, and they still have far to go. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Stephan Popp using Craig’s spotting scope, Elaine Du in background. Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 7 November 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

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.

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.