2016 Photo Highlights

Editor’s note: My photos of the year, 2016. Clockwise from top left: Cinereous Vulture on Chongming Island in January kicked off a year that saw a parade of interesting sightings in Shanghai; ultra-rare Band-bellied Crake was the highlight of my three-week trip to a never-birded area of Heilongjiang; on 10 Dec. members of Shanghai’s ever-growing birding community had a big day out at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui; in a two-month expedition to Qinghai, meeting this Tibetan Lynx was my biggest thrill.

Happy New Year! This post is a photographic summary of my birding year 2016.

Unlike 2015, which saw Elaine Du and me visit the United States, in 2016 we never left China. We birded eight months in Shanghai, two months in Qinghai, and three weeks apiece in the Dulong Gorge in Yunnan and in Elaine’s hometown of Boli in Heilongjiang.


In a year that saw unprecedented numbers of good records in Shanghai, among them Nordmann’s Greenshank, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Swinhoe’s Rail, Black-naped Monarch, Crow-billed Drongo, Fujian Niltava, and Slaty Bunting, Elaine and I were on hand to record some of the rarities.

One of the best was Cinereous Vulture. I got this photo on 23 Jan. on Chongming Island.

Cinereous Vulture, 23 Jan. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Cinereous Vulture, Chongming, 23 Jan. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Pomarine Jaeger was discovered at Cape Nanhui on 19 Oct., a first for Shanghai. The next day, Elaine and I got this image.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Pomarine Jaeger/Skua Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

A trio of Critically Endangered Siberian Crane took up residence on Hengsha Island around 12 Nov. On 7 Dec., I got this photo.

Siberian Crane, Hengsha, 7 Dec. 2016.
Two of the 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Here are images of birds more commonly noted in the Shanghai region.

Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Craig Brelsford.
Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Jiangsu, 21 May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


Northern Boobook, one of four we saw on 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui.
Northern Boobook, 23 Oct. 2016, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Shanghai. Craig Brelsford.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, 1 May 2016, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui. 29 Oct. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Dulong Gorge

From 16 Feb. to 5 March, Elaine and I were in Yunnan, where we explored the Dulong Gorge, a remote valley in the northwestern corner of the province. Birding there is excellent, and the views are sublime.

Beautiful Dulong Gorge near between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016.
Dulong Gorge between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

After days of rain, we were rewarded with this moon-set at dawn on 26 Feb.

The sublime spectacle of the moon setting over the Gaoligong Mountains at dawn was our reward for enduring days and days of rain. Photo taken on Gongshan-Dulong Road near Kongdang on 26 Feb. 2016. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/9, 1/320, ISO 640.
Gongshan-Dulong Road, 26 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We noted 170 species of bird at Dulong. One of the best was Grandala.

Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1820 m.
Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was Craig’s Bird of the Trip.

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Robin was Craig's Bird of the Trip. Our team noted 44 members of Tarsiger hyperythrus in the Dulong Gorge, all but 1 of them adult males. I got this photo at Pukawang on 24 Feb.
Rufous-breasted Bush Robin Tarsiger hyperythrus, 24 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds have plenty of places to hide in the thickly vegetated Dulong Gorge. Sometimes we got lucky, as with this Chestnut-headed Tesia.

Chestnut-headed Tesia, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016.
Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata, 26 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


Elaine and I spent most of the summer in Qinghai. We noted 195 species of bird, but our most unforgettable moment was supplied by a mammal. This is Tibetan Lynx.

Tibetan Lynx (Lynx lynx isabellinus), Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai, China. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m.
Tibetan Lynx Lynx lynx isabellinus, Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m (14,920 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

Tibetan Partridge was commonly noted in eastern Yushu Prefecture.

Tibetan Partridge, 5 July 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Tibetan Partridge, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Another great chicken: White Eared Pheasant.

A pair of White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani pause from their evening forage to gaze warily at the camera. Kanda Gorge, Nangqian County, 5 July 2016. Elev. 3980 m. White Eared Pheasant is listed as Near Threatened because of habitat loss and poaching. In Kanda Gorge, the species seems to be doing well. This pair was feeding in the open next to the road.
White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

At desolate Hala Lake, elev. 4077 m, we found Tibetan Sandgrouse.

Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala, 10 Aug.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, 10 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Brandt’s Mountain Finch is hardy. It thrives at high elevations.

Brandt's Mountain Finch takes long, straight flights at altitudes above 5000 m. I found this individual near Hala Lake, Qinghai, at an elev. of 4400 m.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch, near Hala Lake, 9 Aug. 2016. Elev. 4400 m. (Craig Brelsford)

Henderson’s Ground Jay is master of arid scrubland …

Henderson's Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 30 June 2016. F/6.3, 1/6400, ISO 2500.
Henderson’s Ground Jay near Chaka, 30 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

… while Isabelline Wheatear is master of the semi-deserts of Wulan County.

Isabelline Wheatear 2/3. F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
Isabelline Wheatear, Wulan County, 18 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We had great partners in Qinghai. One of them was Michael Grunwell.

Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski's Redstart at Przevalski's Site in the Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.
Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski’s Redstart in Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Landscapes in Qinghai are beyond beautiful. Here are my favorites.

Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. This photo was taken at 36.826334, 97.965649, elev. 3380 m.
Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

A closer look at the dunes.

The sand in these dunes was deposited grain by grain from the wind. Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. F/7.1, 1/200, ISO 1250.
Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

I used my iPhone 6 for this image of a Chinese Juniper gazing out at the Dulan Mountains. The tree clings to the slope at elev. 3960 m.

Proud and strong, this Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis has gazed out at the Dulan Mountains for 200 years. It clings firmly to the slope at elevation 3960 m.
Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis, Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


From 26 May to 12 June 2016, Elaine Du and I visited her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang, China. The area was never properly birded before we arrived there, and our discoveries have been many. The biggest highlight was Band-bellied Crake.

Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty.
Band-bellied Crake, Boli County, Heilongjiang, 8 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Mandarin Duck breed in Boli County. We found this drake in a small pool deep in Xidaquan Forest.

Mandarin Duck, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016.
Mandarin Duck, 3 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

In the Manchurian forest, woodpeckers abound. The most common species is White-backed Woodpecker.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, 1 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


Elaine Du is my wife and partner. The year 2016 was our third in a row of non-stop birding. Although she is happy birding and has put together an impressive life list, the Heilongjiang native is never happier than when she is in her hometown.

Elaine and Craig, Boli, Heilongjiang.
Elaine and Craig at home in Boli, Heilongjiang, 1 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Through thick and thin we tough it out. Here we are smiling despite being confined to our tent during a rain shower at Hala Lake.

Elaine and Craig waiting out the rain in the tent.
11 Aug. 2016, Hala Lake. (Craig Brelsford)

At Eling Lake in Qinghai, where the Yellow River and China are born, Elaine and I posed for this self-portrait.

'We Are Family!' sang Sister Sledge back in '79. Here's the Chinese-American adventure team, Elaine Du (L) and yours truly--partners, spouses, family. Eling Lake, where the Yellow River and Chinese culture are born. 3 July 2016. Self-portrait taken with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.
Self-portrait taken 3 July 2016 with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine is a little short, but she never gives up. In Dulong Gorge, she improvised a way to see Grandala, a life bird.

Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Elaine Du viewing Grandala for the first time, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016.
Brian Ivon Jones and Elaine viewing Grandala, 19 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine is proud of the remnant Manchurian forest near her home in Boli. Here we are in front of a stand of Silver Birch.

The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.
Xidaquan, 10 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

People like Elaine’s family put food on the table for the city folks.

Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.
Elaine (L) with parents and elder sisters. Boli, 12 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

The Shanghai Birding Community

In 2015 I started shanghaibirding.com and the Shanghai Birding WeChat group. In 2016, the number of readers of the Web site and members of the chat group steadily grew. On 10 Dec., the day of the Shanghai Birding Christmas party, I led a group of birders to Cape Nanhui. There we found a pair of Red-crowned Crane, a first for mainland Shanghai. Here is the group after the historic event.

Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).
Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).

Happy New Year 2017!

Crow-billed Drongo, First Record for Shanghai

Editor’s note: The image above shows Crow-billed Drongo (left) and Black Drongo. The former was noted in Shanghai on Tues. 11 Oct. 2016, a first for the city. The latter is a common passage migrant in Shanghai. In this post, I show you how to separate the two species.

On Tues. 11 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui, Shanghai’s major birding spot on the East China Sea, Shanghai Birding member kaca found a first-winter Crow-billed Drongo Dicrurus annectans. kaca’s record was the first for Crow-billed Drongo in Shanghai.

Is kaca’s historic discovery a one-off, or is it the result of more birders with greater skills more thoroughly covering Shanghai’s hot spots and communicating more readily with one another? If the answer is the latter, then there may be a Crow-billed Drongo in your future! To sift out Crow-billed from the many Black Drongo in our area, note the following:

Crow-billed Drongo, Nanhui, 11 Oct. 2016. First record for Shanghai. Photos © 2016 by kaca and generously shared by him with shanghaibirding.com.
Crow-billed Drongo Dicrurus annectans, Nanhui, 11 Oct. 2016. First record for Shanghai. Photos © 2016 by kaca. Used with permission–and gratitude.

All drongos have a strong, black bill. Crow-billed (Panel 2a, above) may have the stoutest, as deep at its base as it is wide.

The swollen look of its bill may be Crow-billed’s most striking feature. The bill of Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus cathoecus is broad and short but noticeably less thick-based than that of Crow-billed. Compare bills of the two species in the image at the top of this post. (Race cathoecus is the form of Black Drongo birders are most likely to see in Shanghai.)

The iris in kaca’s first-winter Crow-billed is reddish-brown (2a). Adult Crow-billed has a blood-red iris.

Compare brown iris of adult Black at top of post.

Black Drongo often shows white spot at gape, never present in Crow-billed.

Note again the photo leading off this post.

First-winter Crow-billed shows white spotting from breast to undertail coverts (2b, 3).

First-winter Black, by contrast, shows more patchily white underparts (panels 1a, 1b in photo below).

The tail of Crow-billed shows a less shallow fork than the tail of Black. On average, the tail of Black is forked about twice as deeply as that of Crow-billed.

Compare Panel 4 in photo above to Panel 2 in photo below. Adult Crow-billed and Black have deeper forks, but the proportions are the same as in the sub-adults. In addition, the outer rectrices of Crow-billed’s tail are more likely to curl upward.

Black Drongo, 19 Sept. 2012, Yangkou, Jiangsu. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
First-winter Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus cathoecus, 19 Sept. 2012, Yangkou, Jiangsu. Photos by Craig Brelsford.


A monotypic species, Crow-billed Drongo Dicrurus annectans breeds from the Himalayan foothills in India east to Hainan. In winter some birds go as far south as Sumatra and Java. Shenzhen-based French birder Jonathan Martinez, an expert on southeast China birds, reports breeding populations of Crow-billed in northern Guangdong and southwest Hunan. There are coastal records, most likely of migrants, from Hong Kong and Guangxi. Shanghai Birding member Paul Holt writes that Crow-billed is “undoubtedly overlooked” in southern China and “is probably quite rare or at least very localized.” Martinez agrees, calling Crow-billed “scarce” even at the Guangdong and Hunan sites.


Hengsha highlights, 11 Oct. 2016: Lesser Kestrel (Panel 1), Lesser Sand Plover (2), Red-necked Stint (3), and Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, and Sanderling (4).
Highlights from Hengsha Island, 11 Oct. 2016: Common Kestrel (Panel 1), Lesser Sand Plover (2), Red-necked Stint (3), and Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, and Sanderling (4).

On Tuesday I arrived in Nanhui too late to see Crow-billed Drongo. My partners Kai Pflug and Elaine Du and I made the fateful decision to cover Hengsha Island in the morning. The alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze was decidedly humdrum, with Far Eastern Curlew out on the mud along with 2 Sanderling and a Ruddy Turnstone. The huge new tree plantation on the island failed to deliver any forest birds beyond a single Asian Brown Flycatcher. There was a good count (17) of Richard’s Pipit.

We arrived in Nanhui and found kaca, who mentioned an unusual drongo he had seen that morning. We kept our eyes peeled for dark drongos, finding none. Our Nanhui harvest was limited to expected October birds such as Grey-backed Thrush (6) and Eyebrowed Thrush (2). Asian Brown Flycatcher (26) seemed to be on every tree.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler preening itself after completing another leg of its long migratory flight. Nanhui, 11 Oct. 2016.
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler preening after completing another leg of its long migratory flight. Magic Parking Lot (30.884992, 121.968317), Nanhui, 11 Oct. 2016.

All of Shanghai’s Big 5 Leaf Warblers were present: Pallas’s Leaf Warbler (1), Yellow-browed Warbler (1), Arctic-type Warbler (2), Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (7), and Eastern Crowned Warbler (2).

We had 3 Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Elaine’s and my season’s first Daurian Redstart, Asian Stubtail, and Rufous-tailed Robin.

I’m trying to get over missing the Crow-billed Drongo. I tell myself, “That’s birding,” but those words can’t fully dispel the empty feeling.

I am however happy for kaca, and I am encouraged, because the growing fluidity in reporting is leading to ever more astounding new bird records for Shanghai.

List 1 of 2 for Tues. 11 Oct. 2016 (29 species)

Cleaner air, cooler temperatures, and great birds: that's the autumn migration season in Shanghai. Last Tuesday, while kaca was making the astounding discovery of Crow-billed Drongo at Nanhui, I was on Hengsha Island and got the photo above. From that alluvial island we could see the Pudong skyline 38 km away.
On Tuesday, while kaca was discovering Crow-billed Drongo at Nanhui, I was getting this photo on Hengsha, the alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze River. From the island we could see the Yangtze in front of us and the Pudong skyline 38 km away.

Birds noted on Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), a small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to reclaimed area at 31.297333, 121.859434. Partly cloudy. Low 17° C, high 19° C. Humidity 64%. Visibility: large buildings visible from distance of 38 km. Wind NE 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:55, sunset 17:25. TUE 11 OCT 2016 07:15-10:15. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 18
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 7
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 9
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 18
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 40
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 15
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus ca. 500
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 1
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 12
Sanderling C. alba 2
Dunlin C. alpina 310
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 50
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 6
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 25
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 40
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 5
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 50
White Wagtail M. alba 2
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 17
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 1

List 2 of 2 for Tues. 11 Oct. 2016 (35 species)

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Nanhui, 11 Oct. This is a female showing a clear demarcation between hood and white belly, faint rufous flanks, and a dark mantle showing little rufous coloration. For more on how to ID paradise flycatchers, see our post.
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551), Nanhui, Tuesday. This is a female showing a clear demarcation between dark breast and white belly, faint rufous flanks, a dark mantle, and sooty primary coverts. For more on identifying paradise flycatchers in Shanghai, see our recent post, ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Partly cloudy. Low 17° C, high 19° C. Humidity 64%. Visibility: large buildings visible from distance of 38 km. Wind NE 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:55, sunset 17:25. TUE 11 OCT 2016 13:00-18:05. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Garganey Spatula querquedula 9
Northern Shoveler S. clypeata 7
Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope 15
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 30
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 42
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 20
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 8
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 6
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 7
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 20
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 1
Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 1
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 1
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 2
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 7
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 7
Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 26
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 8
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 1
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 3
Taiga Flycatcher F. albicilla 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 2
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 8
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 6
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 1
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 2
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 11


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Screen shot from Shanghai Birding.

Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. Quotations in post from Paul Holt and Jonathan Martinez taken from this chat group. News about kaca’s discovery of Crow-billed Drongo was first disseminated in this chat group. To join Shanghai Birding, fill out the form on our Sightings page.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 14, “Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows.” Highly detailed species accounts for Crow-billed Drongo (p. 212) and Black Drongo (p. 222) written by G.J. Rocamora and D. Yeatman-Berthelot.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Entry on Crow-billed Drongo, p. 282.

Message, Stephen & Don Taylor. Waders of Europe, Asia and North America. Refreshed my memory on basic points separating Lesser Sand Plover from Greater Sand Plover.

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Crow-billed Drongo and Black Drongo, p. 176.