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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Cinereous Vulture in Shanghai

by Craig Brelsford

On 23-24 Jan. Elaine and I noted 68 species on one of the coldest weekends in Shanghai in recent memory. We birded Chongming, the great alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze River, and Nanhui. With strong northwesterly winds making temperatures feel as cold as -16°C, many birds lay low, but the strange weather probably played a role in two extraordinary records: 2 Cinereous Vulture (Chongming) and 3 Red-throated Loon (Nanhui). Other notable records were 2 Horned Grebe at Dishui Lake and a winter record of Wood Sandpiper at Nanhui as well as Eastern Yellow Wagtail (taivana) and Red-throated Thrush on Chongming. On Chongming and at Nanhui, we had Red-throated Pipit and Water Pipit mixed in with Buff-bellied Pipit.

Listed as near threatened by IUCN, Cinereous Vulture breeds across Eurasia, from Spain to China. In China, Aegypius monachus breeds mainly in the west as well as in Hulunbeier in northeastern Inner Mongolia. It is a “sporadic” (MacKinnon) or “rare” (Brazil) winter visitor to the southeast China coast. The largest Old World vulture, it has a wing span of about 260 cm (8.5 ft).

From a distance, the huge vultures looked like dogs. They usually stayed close together.
From a distance, the huge vultures looked like dogs. They usually stayed close together. (Craig Brelsford)

From a distance, the huge vultures looked like dogs as they rested on the ground. The pair was approachable. They usually stayed close together. Their plumage was shiny, and they appeared healthy. I doubt, however, that the eastern end of Chongming Island is a place that can support a pair of these huge birds for long. A Chinese photographer we met said the Chongming pair was probably the same pair that had been reported recently in Nantong. As of Saturday, the vultures had been on Chongming for a week to 10 days.

According to the IUCN, only about 50 Red-throated Loon winter along the Chinese coast.
According to the IUCN, only about 50 Red-throated Loon winter along the Chinese coast. (Craig Brelsford)

Red-throated Loon is also known as Red-throated Diver. Gavia stellata breeds in tundra bogs and taiga pools above 50° N latitude in Eurasia and North America. It winters along the coasts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Though the species faces no global threat, it is rare in China, with IUCN estimating that less than 50 spend the winter on the Chinese coast. Two of our three birds were feeding in one of the few unfrozen fish ponds inside the sea wall. A third was not feeding, and our partner Michael Grunwell feared it had been contaminated by oil.

Elaine and I birded Chongming alone. On Sunday at Nanhui, Michael joined us. We car-birded both days, driving a Skoda Scout rented from Avis.

Cinereous Vulture and Red-throated Loon became the 265th and 266th species of bird that Elaine and I have noted in the Shanghai region since 11 Sept. 2015.


Michael Grunwell searching for Horned Grebe at Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 24 Jan. 2016.
Michael Grunwell searching for Horned Grebe at Dishui Lake. (Craig Brelsford)
Mixed in with the Buff-bellied Pipit were Red-throated Pipit (above) and Water Pipit.
Mixed in with the Buff-bellied Pipit were Red-throated Pipit (above) and Water Pipit. (Craig Brelsford)
Blustery winds made for tough birding. Here, Dishui Lake looks like a surging Arctic sea. Note Black-headed Gull flying in background.
Blustery winds made for tough birding. Here, Dishui Lake looks like an Arctic sea. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 23 Jan. Photographed using Nikon D3S and Nikkor VR 600mm F/4G lens mounted atop Manfrotto 055 carbon-fiber tripod and MVH502AH video head. F/9, 1/1250, ISO 2000. (Craig Brelsford)
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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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