The photo above shows a remnant of the reed beds that used to cover Nanhui and much of the Shanghai Peninsula. The photo is from Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), part of a reed bed 450,000 square meters in size lining the Dazhi River near Binhai. As the birding areas at Nanhui fall to the backhoe, future birders searching for species will turn to hidden corners such as this one.

This post is part of a series on the riches of the environment in Nanhui and the threats to those riches. Other posts in the series:

Reed Parrotbill, Symbol of Shanghai
Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Nanhui
Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve!

by Craig Brelsford

Though its position between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay makes it among the richest birding areas on the coast of China, the southeastern tip of Pudong enjoys virtually no protection. The continued transformation of Cape Nanhui is likely, with the reed beds at particular risk. As the backhoes advance, birders ask: Where will we go to find our birds?

Answer: to the remnants.

Craig Brelsford searches for Brown-cheeked Rail in one of the extensive reed beds east of Dishui Lake. Photo taken 16 Jan. 2016 by Elaine Du.
Craig Brelsford searches for Brown-cheeked Rail in one of the extensive reed beds east of Dishui Lake. All may seem well here, but the reeds to the south of the photo have been destroyed, and to the north is the defunct nature reserve. It is highly possible that here too the reed bed will be dredged and plowed under and that in the end only fragments of the original habitat will remain. That would be a pity, because the reed beds at Cape Nanhui are some of the largest and best-preserved on the central Chinese coast. (Elaine Du)

Like archeologists examining a ruin, future birders at Cape Nanhui will scour the fragments of a once-great coastal wetland and try to imagine how the place once looked. Most of the land will have been transformed. Even now, in some of the agricultural areas around Binhai (31.007757, 121.885624) and Luchao (30.857299, 121.850590), nearly all of the original reed-bed habitat has disappeared.

If those future birders look hard, though, they will find intact pieces, islands of untouched habitat. Even around Binhai and Luchao, there are such places. Reed beds line man-made canals and larger waterways such as the Dazhi River, the mouth of which holds about 450,000 square meters of good reed-bed habitat. In these fragments, wild birds flourish, much as they always have done, though on a smaller scale.

Binhai lies to the north of the main birding areas east of Dishui Lake. Luchao is to the south. These towns border the 30-km stretch of coastline at Cape Nanhui. These built-up places point to the likely future of the areas just east of Dishui Lake, which have developed more slowly and to this day still hold pristine reed beds. (One of the largest covers 1.4 sq. km and has its center point at 30.876060, 121.945305.)

Craig Brelsford leaves walks up the inner base of the sea wall near Luchao, 10 Nov. 2016.
Craig Brelsford walks up the inner base of the sea wall near Luchao, 19 Nov. In the midground is a narrow line of reeds in which a Lesser Coucal was foraging. The coordinates of this point are 30.849433, 121.881834. Half a kilometer south, a more extensive reed bed measures 75 m by 2500 m. (Elaine Du)

The reed beds east of Dishui are impenetrable—a wilderness within the city. We know that they are rich in birds, and we know that they hold species at risk, among them breeding Marsh Grassbird Locustella pryeri, listed as Near Threatened by IUCN. Judging by their frequency of occurrence at the edges of the reed beds, where they are regularly seen and heard, Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill must number in the high hundreds at Nanhui. Just this past Saturday, our team found Near Threatened Japanese Reed Bunting.

Lesser Coucal in remnant reed bed near Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047). The coucal was very much at home and gave us the impression that it had been born there. The reed beds in the Luchao area have been reduced to about 1% of their historic extension, but even that 1% is enough to support a small community of birds, among them Yellow-breasted Bunting at a nearby site (30.850707, 121.863662).
Lesser Coucal in remnant reed bed near Eiffel Tower (30.849433, 121.881834). The coucal was very much at home and may have been born there. The reed beds in the Luchao area have been reduced to less than 1 percent of their historical extension. Those specks of habitat support a scaled-down community of the birds once common in Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

Even the tiny fragments near the towns hold a surprisingly high number of species. At a site (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, in reeds lining a canal at the base of the sea wall, Yellow-breasted Bunting have been present throughout November. On Saturday we found this Endangered species for the sixth time in six tries since our first sighting there on 5 Nov.

Chestnut-eared Bunting amid a world of reeds at the site north of Luchao, 19 Nov. 2016.
Chestnut-eared Bunting in a world of reeds at the site (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao currently reliable for Yellow-breasted Bunting. The site is part of a reed bed measuring 75 m by 2500 m—188,000 square meters of precious reed-bed habitat. Decades ago, such a modest parcel of land would have seemed a drop in the bucket. Today, remnants such as this provide habitat critically important to dozens of species once common in the area, among them the two aforementioned species of bunting as well as Brown Crake, Lesser Coucal, and Reed Parrotbill. (Craig Brelsford)

The site, part of a reedy area 75 m wide and 2500 m long, also yielded a small flock of Reed Parrotbill as well as wintering Chestnut-eared Bunting and Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Just north of the site, near Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047), there is an even smaller fragment of reed bed. There, we had juvenile Lesser Coucal.

Reed beds are an extremely rich habitat, and even a tiny area can hold many birds. Even if disaster continues to befall the large reed beds that still exist near Dishui Lake, not quite everything will have been lost. Birding will go on—in the remnants.


The Hooded Crane was feeding, a sign that it was relaxing despite being 60 km away from the regular wintering site of Hooded Crane at eastern Chongming Island. On Sat. 12 Nov. Elaine, Michael, and I had the first record of Hooded Crane in the history of the Shanghai Peninsula (see latest post on This almost certainly is the same bird. Hooded Crane is listed as Vulnerable. About 11,500 individuals remain. The key threats to its existence are, in the words of IUCN, "wetland loss and degradation in its wintering grounds in China and South Korea."
The Hooded Crane was feeding, a sign that it was functioning normally despite being at Nanhui, a location not really suitable to cranes and 60 km south of the regular Hooded Crane wintering site on eastern Chongming Island. On Sat. 12 Nov. 2016, Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I had the first record of Hooded Crane in the history of the Shanghai Peninsula. The crane shown here, found at a point (30.940284, 121.958120) just a few hundred meters from the site of that first encounter, is almost certainly the same bird. Grus monacha is listed as Vulnerable. About 11,500 remain. The main threats to its existence are, in the words of IUCN, ‘wetland loss and degradation in its wintering grounds in China and South Korea.’ (Craig Brelsford)

On Sat. 19 Nov. 2016, Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I birded Cape Nanhui. We found 78 species. We had Japanese Reed Bunting on the north side of the defunct wetland reserve (30.926452, 121.958517), the Hooded Crane that apparently spent a week in Nanhui, a single Baikal Teal (and presumably others shrouded in haze), a juvenile Lesser Coucal very much at home in remnant reed bed near Luchao, and Yellow-breasted Bunting at its reliable spot (30.850707, 121.863662).

Non-passerines: Tundra Swan (bewickii) 6 on the mudflats, Black-faced Spoonbill 6 in the defunct wetland reserve, Eurasian Spoonbill 45, Black-faced/Eurasian Spoonbill 30 in haze with bills tucked in, Black-tailed Godwit 1, Red Knot 2, Temminck’s Stint 1, Red-necked Stint 7, Dunlin 850.

Passerines: Brown-flanked Bush Warbler 1, Naumann’s Thrush 1, Chestnut-eared Bunting 15, Taiga/Red-breasted Flycatcher 1 (seen in poor light by Elaine; presumably the same confirmed Red-breasted Flycatcher found by Kai Pflug).


'Cape Nanhui' is the southeastern-most point of Pudong (red) and the city-province of Shanghai. Map courtesy Wikipedia.
I published this map last week, but I think it is worth examining it again. ‘Cape Nanhui’ is an important birding area not just because it is coastal but also because it is a headland—the southeastern-most point of Pudong (red) and the entire city-province of Shanghai (yellow areas plus Pudong). Migrating birds hugging the coastline are drawn to areas that jut out. Just a few hundred meters inland, however, the intensity fades. The bird mix at places such as Binhai Forest Park (30.966324, 121.910289), just 4.5 km inland, closely resembles that of the urban parks farther inland. (Wikipedia/Craig Brelsford)

On Saturday our team made its first trip since 31 Oct. 2015 to Binhai Forest Park (30.966324, 121.910289). The site yielded a late Mugimaki Flycatcher. More importantly, the brief visit gave us insights into the nature of migratory birds.

Though just 4.5 km inland, Binhai offers a mix of birds more akin to that of Century Park (22 km inland) than the coastal areas much nearer-by. Passerines moving through our region clearly hug the shoreline, especially around headlands such as Cape Nanhui.

Some of the smaller Nanhui microforests, such as Microforest 2 (30.926013, 121.970705), are about the size of a tennis court. But as they are a stone’s throw from the sea, they hold a much greater density of passage migrants than Binhai, which is 1600 times larger (1.5 sq. km) than Microforest 2.


Japanese Reed Bunting Emberiza yessoensis. The IUCN lists it as Near Threatened because of the loss of wetland habitat in its breeding range (which includes Heilongjiang) as well as in its wintering grounds. The continued degradation of the Nanhui coastal marshes is a prime example of the general problems this species faces.
Japanese Reed Bunting Emberiza yessoensis, defunct nature reserve (30.926452, 121.958517), Nanhui, 19 Nov. 2016. Owing to the loss of wetland habitat in its breeding range (which in China includes Heilongjiang) as well as in its wintering grounds, IUCN lists the species as Near Threatened. (Craig Brelsford)

Michael, Elaine, and I were on the unpaved track on the north side of the defunct Nanhui reserve (30.926452, 121.958517). We were studying the roosting shorebirds and spoonbills. I got a call from Wāng Yàjīng (汪亚菁), who along with her husband Chén Qí (陈骐) found Swinhoe’s Rail at Nanhui last month. She told me a Hooded Crane was in the rice paddies 1.5 km north of us.

As we were rushing back to the car, I noted a lone reed bunting in the thick vegetation lining the dirt track. A lone reed bunting struck me as odd; Pallas’s Reed Bunting are common in the area and usually in flocks. I pulled out my camera and got a few images, which I did not have time to check. We got in the car and drove to see the crane.

Only the next day, when I sat down to look at Saturday’s photographic results, did I realize that I had photographed Japanese Reed Bunting Emberiza yessoensis.
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Amid the Din of the Diggers

On Sat. 26 March, Elaine Du and I noted 53 species at Cape Nanhui in southeast Pudong. Despite air pollution that made my nose run, we enjoyed yet another day of Metro + walk-’n’-bird. We covered 15 km (9 mi.) on foot, going camera-less and carrying our Swarovski scope. We took a taxi from the Dishui Lake Metro Line 16 station to Microforest 2 (30.926039, 121.970725). From there we walked back to the station, along the way exploring the reed beds, checking the shore, and scanning Dishui Lake.

Highlights: Falcated Duck 180, Garganey 8, Black-necked Grebe 4 (3 in nearly complete breeding plumage), Eurasian Spoonbill 8, Eurasian Bittern 1, Intermediate Egret 1, Kentish Plover 1, Barn Swallow 4, Reed Parrotbill 27, Naumann’s Thrush 1, Eastern Yellow Wagtail 5 tschutschensis, Richard’s Pipit 8, Buff-bellied Pipit 46, Chestnut-eared Bunting 5, Little Bunting 9 (1 singing), Pallas’s Reed Bunting 70.

In the reeds behind Microforest 2, amid the din of the digging machines that are destroying its home, a Reed Parrotbill was chirring loudly and making sounds reminiscent of babblers. I recorded four types of call:

chirring (00:03; 930 KB)

insistent (00:05; 1 MB)

plaintive (00:04; 958 KB)

joyful (00:20; 1.6 MB)

The transformation of the wetland continues apace. I took a photo showing a former marshy-reedy area, now drained, in which hundreds of a single species of coniferous tree are being planted. In this sector, sightings of Black-faced Spoonbill used to be regular. No more.

sign from transformed wetland
INCONGRUOUS: Sign from transformed wetland still stands, despite drainage and planting of hundreds of trees in area where Black-winged Stilt once foraged. (Craig Brelsford)

We skipped the Magic Parking Lot after a binocular check revealed about 100 cars parked around the lot. More and more locals are using our old birding area, especially on mild spring days such as Saturday.

On Fri. 25 March, Elaine and I viewed the Huangpu River from the Lujiazui side near Oriental Pearl Tower at a place called Binjiang Park (not to be confused with Binjiang Forest Park). Activity was little; we had just a handful of Vega Gull plus Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Egret, and a single Grey Heron as well as singing Chinese Blackbird, resident Light-vented Bulbul, and a leucopsis White Wagtail.

Elaine Du
Elaine Du birding Huangpu River from Lujiazui side, 25 March. (Craig Brelsford)

We met a local bird photographer who said he goes to Lujiazui often. At times, this photographer said, “thousands” of gulls can be seen on the river around Lujiazui-Bund. He said he’d had just such a banner day last week, and he was surprised at the lack of gulls on Friday. This gentleman had photos of Black-tailed Gull as well as many Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus.

birds of the Bund
BIRD LIFE ON THE BUND: Vega Gull (top L, top R) will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Mallard (bottom L) sometimes appear in Huangpu River. At low tide, Little Egret congregate on thin strips of exposed mud. (Craig Brelsford)

I get a romantic feeling birding the Bund and Lujiazui, one of the world’s best-known urban riverscapes. The romance is especially strong on a sunny day with the polluted air acting as a filter, reducing the sun’s rays to a soft, warm glow. Vega Gull appear; the Huangpu River is their stage, the famous skyscrapers their backdrop. The gulls will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Versatile creatures are they, specks of wild Asia in the heart of Shanghai.

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 25 March (7 species). Binjiang Park (Bīnjiāng Gōngyuán [滨江公园]; 31.235662, 121.497396), a small urban park on Huangpu River in Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Sunny; low 4° C, high 13° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 109 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:50, sunset 18:10. FRI 25 MAR 2016 16:10-17:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 6
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus 13
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 18
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 4
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis


Black-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe through spotting scope, Dishui Lake, 26 March. Elaine and I still have not bought an adapter for taking pictures with my iPhone 6 through our Swarovski ATX-95. By holding my hand steady against the eyepiece, I am able to acquire record shots as good as this. The grebes were at least 100 m away, far beyond the reach of my Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens; in fact, with my camera and lens, I would have been hard-pressed to find the grebes, let alone produce a useful photo. The scope-phone combo, by contrast, allows us to peek into the grebes’ world. In Panel 3 we can clearly see the remaining non-breeding plumage on the lower breast of the grebe. The red eye and yellow ear tufts are obvious. Black-necked Grebe is a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region. (Craig Brelsford)
Brelsford at Nanhui
The author in a scrubby strip of land on the edge of a field at Nanhui, 26 March. Little Bunting and Black-faced Bunting were in the scrub, Eurasian Skylark and Common Pheasant in the field. The area is just east of Dishui Lake. (Elaine Du)

Featured image: Where Black-faced Spoonbill once foraged, digging machines now crawl, transforming critical reed-bed and marshland habitat into an artificial forest. Looming in the background is the brand-new satellite city of Lingang. Nanhui, Shanghai, 26 March.
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