Cape Nanhui on Foot

by Craig Brelsford

Elaine Du and I birded Cape Nanhui on foot, noting 43 species. I had my first-ever visual record of Brown-cheeked Rail in Shanghai, and at Dishui Lake we noted Common Goldeneye, 6 Greater Scaup, and 4 Black-necked Grebe. We had an unusual winter record of Eastern Yellow Wagtail (ssp. tschutschensis).

Common Goldeneye and Falcated Duck
Common Goldeneye with Falcated Duck, Dishui Lake. Photo created with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope mounted on Manfrotto head and carbon-fiber tripod. (Craig Brelsford)

The Brown-cheeked Rail was at 30.907690, 121.972372. Our discovery of the shy species came about because we were walking, not driving. On a sunny and unusually quiet day along Shijitang Road (the sea-wall road), Elaine and I were walking slowly, noting every sound and movement. Had we been driving, we might have missed the brief, piercing call of the rail.

The sound was coming from the reeds at the landward base of the sea wall. As it was time for lunch, and knowing how long rail vigils can take, Elaine and I sat down and ate our sandwiches in the warm sun, watching for movement in the reeds below and recording the calls the rail was intermittently making. Finally, the rail appeared atop the thin drainage canal connecting the wall to the marsh. I got a good enough look at the brownish flanks to affirm that the bird was not the extralimital Water Rail Rallus aquaticus but Brown-cheeked Rail R. indicus.

The valuable record was icing on the cake for us, because Elaine’s and my main goal today was not to acquire lifers but to get outside and exercise. If good birds appeared, we said, then fine, but nothing was more important to us than casting away the cooped-up feeling we get living in our apartment in the center city. We wanted sunshine, broad horizons, and the relatively clean air of Nanhui, and this time, for the first time, we wanted to bird Nanhui on foot.

We were able to do Nanhui without a car because of the recent opening of Metro Line 16, whose south terminus is at Dishui Lake. We needed only 90 minutes to go from our apartment near Zhongshan Park to Dishui Lake, taking Line 2 to Longyang Road and transferring to Line 16. After a quick taxi ride, by 08:15 we were at our favorite Dishui Lake viewpoint (30.908702, 121.945124). Having noted in addition to the aforementioned birds 350 Falcated Duck, 4 Tufted Duck, 1 of today’s 2 Richard’s Pipit, and surprisingly 0 Common Pochard, Elaine and I walked toward the coast. I had no camera with me, only my spotting scope and binoculars.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis, an unusual winter record for Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

At the sea wall, we turned north, finding many Buff-bellied Pipit, White Wagtail, and the misplaced Eastern Yellow Wagtail. We ID’d our 2 Pied Harrier on the basis of the combination of brown back, greyish secondaries, and white rump of both birds, which were together. We heard two more rails but in even thicker cover than the first; we did not wait around for a visual to nail the ID, but we presume that they too were Brown-cheeked. Walking on an unpaved road into the reeds, we startled Common Snipe and Eurasian Teal. We watched Reed Parrotbill pry open the reed stems, making a crunchy sound.

One snipe, a loner, made only a quick, low flight before dropping stonelike and silently into the reeds. There was no “sneeze” at takeoff, unlike Common Snipe, and I saw no white trailing edge to the wing (which is not to say it was not there). The snipe appeared smaller than Common. Because of the angle of the snipe’s head as it dropped, I could not see the bill. Was it Jack Snipe? I do not know, but I urge local birders not to chalk up every snipe they see to Common but to take a good, hard look.

We u-turned and walked south, reaching the bus stop behind the Magic Parking Lot at the Holiday Inn. It was 15:20 and we had walked 17 km (10.6 mi.). We took the bus back to the Dishui Lake Metro Station. The subway ride back to Zhongshan Park was just as smooth as the ride out.

Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du
Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du sleeping on Line 16. It’s a long ride out to Dishui Lake, but birders are virtually guaranteed a seat on Line 16. That’s because the stations one uses to access and exit Line 16 (Dishui Lake and Longyang Road) are the terminuses of Line 16. (Craig Brelsford)

Bird List for Sat. 16 Jan. 2016 (43 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 Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Thick morning haze then mostly sunny skies; low 0°C, high 10°C. Visibility 0-10 km. Wind E 6 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 189 (Shanghai). Sunrise 06:53, sunset 17:15. SAT 16 JAN 2016 08:15-15:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 350
Gadwall A. strepera 9
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 50
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 50
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 70
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 4
Greater Scaup A. marila 6
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 14
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 30
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 4
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 25
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos 2
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail R. indicus/R. aquaticus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 150
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 30
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 17
snipe sp. 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 8
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 12
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 9
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 5
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 12
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 1 tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba 18 (17 leucopsis, 1 ocularis)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Buff-Bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 16
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 40

Featured image: Craig Brelsford viewing Brown-cheeked Rail in a drainage ditch at Cape Nanhui, Shanghai. (Elaine Du)
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A Reliable Spot for Brown-cheeked Rail

by Craig Brelsford

On our first birding trip of 2016, Elaine and I noted 85 species at Yancheng, Dongtai, and Yangkou. We reunited with the Dream Team, which includes Senior Birder Michael Grunwell, husband-wife team Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, my wife Elaine Du, and me. We added evidence that the point 32.557278 121.037111 is a reliable site for Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus, and at Dongtai we found a sub-adult Mute Swan. At Yancheng, we found 9 Red-crowned Crane, 10 Hooded Crane, 250 Common Crane, 2 Oriental Stork, 1250 Common Merganser, and 8 Reed Parrotbill. Among our big finds at Dongtai were 11 Red-breasted Merganser, 14 Greater Scaup, 80 Saunders’s Gull, and 610 Grey Plover. We recorded Pied Avocet, Black-winged Kite, and Smew at Dongtai and Yancheng, and we found Green Sandpiper at Yancheng and Yangkou.

Mute Swan
Mute Swan is a well-known ornamental bird, found in parks throughout Western Europe and North America. Wild Mute Swan are less commonly seen, and in the Shanghai region, Cygnus olor is a very scarce winter visitor. This sub-adult has a dull pink bill, unlike the deep orange-red bill of an adult. Dongtai, 10 Jan. (Craig Brelsford)

In May 2010, I found Brown-cheeked Rail at the point in Yangkou noted above. I forgot about the sighting and did not search again until last 15 Nov., when I found Brown-cheeked Rail after a 30-minute wait. On Sunday, I made my second of two tries at the site and was successful again.

Using the evidence I have presented here, you may believe, as I do, that the site is reliable for Rallus indicus. If you need the bird, then go with a few more birders if possible, stand in the area shown on the Google Map linked to above, spread out, and pay attention to the edge of the reeds. On Sunday, in contrast to 15 Nov., the rail never showed clearly; only Elaine’s sharp eye confirmed the presence of the scurrying rail. I got a look that first time, and about 30 minutes later, the bird showed again, and everyone got a quick view. The bird was calling softly from time to time and called loudly, but only briefly, when I first played back Water Rail R. aquaticus. (I played back R. aquaticus because the recordings I have of R. indicus are poor.) If you have qualms about playback, then you may still be able to see the bird, but be prepared to wait. If you are lucky, Reed Parrotbill will show; during our wait, we had Pallas’s Reed Bunting, Rustic Bunting, a Common Snipe that was hiding in plain sight, and an unusual winter view of Chinese Pond Heron.

Chinese Pond Heron
Unusual winter sighting of Chinese Pond Heron, Yangkou, 10 Jan. 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.

With last weekend’s work at Yancheng, Elaine and I completed a survey (which began last year) of the Jiangsu coast from just north of Yancheng down to the Yangtze River. Along that 300 km stretch of coast, the best place to bird is Dongtai, followed by Yangkou and Yancheng. Besides those three areas, there is little left. There may be pockets that I have overlooked, but I doubt they are substantial; I doubt there is some secret location holding 10,000 waders.

The coastal area of Dongtai city is under no environmental protection that I know of, and in fact is slated to be transformed for aquaculture. At Yancheng, the Red-crowned Crane we saw were shuttling back and forth between fields, with busy farmers, noisy farming machines, and farmhouses never far away. At Yangkou, the smell of chemicals grows ever stronger, just as birdable areas behind the coastal wall grow ever smaller and the invasive Smooth Cordgrass on the mudflats grows ever more extensive.

We had little time for photography, but this cooperative Rustic Bunting offered me an opportunity too good to pass up. It is easy to distinguish a faded winter Rustic (as here) from the smarter breeding Rustic; it is harder to age and sex them. (Craig Brelsford)

Jiangsu packs 80 million people into an area less than a quarter the size of Sweden or California. If Sweden were as densely populated as Jiangsu, then its population would be about the same (320 million) as that of the United States. The GPP (Gross Provincial Product) of Jiangsu is one-third the GDP of India. A dense population of people with a culture that cares little for conservation and operates an economic powerhouse: That is Jiangsu. No wonder the Jiangsu coast is being chopped to pieces!

Thanks to Michael for teaching us birding, to Stephan for his excellent driving, to Xueping for her quick mind, and to Elaine for her cheery attitude.

Elaine Du
Elaine Du cheerfully hauls the spotting scope back to the car. The youngest member of the team, Elaine has an obvious enthusiasm for birding, is becoming handy with the telescope, and keeps accurate records. (Craig Brelsford)


Green Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper, Yangkou, 10 Jan. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Scaup
Greater Scaup, Dongtai, 10 Jan. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: L-R: Stephan Popp, Michael Grunwell, & Elaine Du view 1250 Common Merganser near Crane Paradise, Yancheng, Jiangsu, 9 January 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
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Horned Grebe in Shanghai!

by Craig Brelsford

Since returning in September from our two-month Amur River Basin trip, Elaine and I have been birding almost exclusively around Shanghai. On 11 Sept. we started “Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16.” Through last Sunday we have noted 252 species for that report. Sunday brought us two additions to the list: Sand Martin and Slavonian Grebe (IOC calls it Horned Grebe). The 3 Horned Grebe were among an impressive thousand or so birds on Dishui Lake and were joined by 13 Black-necked Grebe, 9 Greater Scaup, and 240 Falcated Duck. In all we noted 58 species on Sunday. On Saturday at Hengsha with Michael Grunwell, rain stunted our efforts a bit, but we managed to note 55 species.

Japanese Thrush
Japanese Thrush, Dishui Lake, Sunday. Turus cardis is a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is most commonly seen in October. This record was our latest ever in Shanghai for the species. On a wet, gloomy morning, the thrush was foraging on the grassy medial strip.

On the road ringing Dishui Lake, Elaine and I got our latest-ever Shanghai record of Japanese Thrush. 25 Eastern Yellow Wagtail ssp. taivana were present on the muddy areas fringing the reed beds. Last year, taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai, an unexpectedly northern record; I and I hope others will be looking for more taivana winter records in the coming months. The Sand Martin were among 50 late Barn Swallow and were flying over the lake behind the Holiday Inn at Nanhui. Among our other Nanhui notables were 170 Tufted Duck on Dishui Lake, 90 Eurasian Spoonbill (no Black-faced Spoonbill noted), 2 Western Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, and 5 Rustic Bunting.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana, Nanhui, Sunday. Look for taivana along the muddy fringes of the reed beds and ponds. Last year taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai.

At Nanhui, a long wait deep in the reed beds produced no Water Rail/Brown-cheeked Rail, but on Hengsha I got a very quick auditory record. Michael and I had taken a long walk on an unpaved road through excellent reedy habitat and were enjoying a sustained view of a flock of Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Suddenly, the rail cried out, but was not heard again.

Also at that spot, a Jack Snipe blew its cover, remaining visible in flight long enough to reveal its short bill. We viewed Merlin and heard three flocks of Reed Parrotbill.

Sand Martin
This Sand Martin was associating with Barn Swallow at Cape Nanhui.

Earlier, during a talk with some local crabbers, we were told that beginning next year it’s game over for the reclaimed area at Hengsha–development of the container port will begin. Michael, who had never been to Hengsha before, was much impressed with the site, and concurred with my view that it is one of the top places to bird in Shanghai. The view of some 6,000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond only solidified Michael’s opinion. Fearing the worst for Hengsha, we looked longingly and hopefully across the Yangtze to the protected Jiuduansha islands, barely visible.

Horned Grebe
More views of Horned Grebe. Podiceps auritus has a flatter head than Black-necked Grebe, the peak of the head being well behind the eye. In winter plumage, the black cap is neater than that of Black-necked Grebe, with no bulge on the cheek as with Podiceps nigricollis. Note the whitish spot on the lores here. This individual is an adult.

Rain turned to frozen rain, and we drove slowly on the sea-wall road along the eastern and northern edges of Hengsha. Some salt-marsh habitat remains between the sea wall and the tide line, and there we found 3 Ruddy Shelduck, a welcome bit of color amid the bleakness. Wooded areas on the inland side of the wall produced White’s Thrush and Yellow-throated Bunting.

Dishui Lake should be a part of anyone’s winter Nanhui itinerary. As it’s just a few hundred meters from Line 16 Dishui Lake station, even birders without a car can enjoy a long walk around the circular pond.

Rustic Bunting
Rustic Bunting, Nanhui, Sunday.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 5 Dec. 2015 (54 species)

Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), a small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to birding area at 31.297333, 121.859434. Excellent view of large pond at 31.331804, 121.883224. Cloudy with drizzle turning to steady light rain. Winds SW 3 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:38, sunset 16:51. High 7°C. SAT 05 DEC 2015 07:20-14:00.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 3
Falcated Duck Anas falcata ca. 2000
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 1
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 1
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 30
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 4
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 10
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 8
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 2
Little Egret E. garzetta 30
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 5
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/R. aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 2500
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 30
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 10
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 18
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 30
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 25
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 30
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 20
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 10
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 15
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 5
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 5
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 20
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 6
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

Elaine Du
A chipper Elaine Du pauses while searching for Water Rail at Nanhui, 6 Dec.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 6 Dec. 2015 (58 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), Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), the empty blue-roofed building & nearby microforests (30.961368, 121.952136), and Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Mostly cloudy, becoming partly cloudy. Visibility 0-5 km. Sunrise 06:40, sunset 16:51. Low 4°C, high 10°C. SUN 06 DEC 2015 07:30-16:40.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 240
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 40
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 170
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 9
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 70
Horned Grebe P. auritus 3
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 13
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 90
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 40
Great Egret A. alba 16
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 30
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 2
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 220
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 13
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 10
Dunlin Calidris alpina 25
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 5
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 15
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 2
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 50
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 5
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 7
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 7
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 12
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 16
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 25 taivana
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 56
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 7
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 6
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 5
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 2
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 5
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

Featured image: Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus, Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 6 Dec.
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