Hello from Florida!

In the photo above, Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus pauses while feeding in a “hammock” or stand of trees. American Robin Turdus migratorius is visible in the background. The photo is from Gemini Springs Park in Volusia County, Florida and was taken on 22 Jan. 2017. This post is the first in a two-part series about my recent experiences birding in Florida. For Part 2, click here.

Greetings from the United States! On 19 Jan. Elaine Du and I arrived at my parents’ home in Florida. Birding began immediately, with good records such as Sandhill Crane coming from my parents’ very own front yard. The Sunshine State may be the best state in the USA for birding, and it is particularly good in winter. In this post, I will give you an introduction to birding in central Florida.

Where Are We?

In Debary, as in many other places in the United States, wild birds can be quite tame. Here at Gemini Springs Park, an American White Ibis (L) and a pair of Boat-tailed Grackle are attracted by the activities of fishermen and birdwatchers.
In Debary, as in many other places in the United States, wild birds can be quite tame. Here at Gemini Springs Park, an American White Ibis (L) and a pair of Boat-tailed Grackle are attracted by the activities of human visitors on the pier.

Elaine and I are in Debary, a town in Volusia County, near Orlando, 50 km (30 miles) inland from the Atlantic Ocean. We are at about 29 degrees north latitude at a point 262 km (163 miles) south of the parallel that runs through People’s Square in Shanghai.

Because Elaine and I have not seen my parents in two years, much of my time has been spent with family. We have visited only two nature reserves, but they are good ones: Gemini Springs Park and Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. The former is 7 km from my parents’ home; the latter, 31 km.

What Can a non-American Birder Learn in Florida?

Forest habitat, Gemini Springs Park, Volusia County, Florida, 28 Jan. 2017.
The edge of dense forest in Gemini Springs Park. Spanish Moss Tillandsia usneoides hangs from live oaks. Ovenbird forages on the forest floor, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher and White-eyed Vireo browse in the mid-canopy, and Common Grackle perch atop the high branches.

Birders who do most of their birding in China will find many differences in the avifauna of Florida. Entire families, such as the wood warblers (Parulidae), would be new to the first-time birder in the New World. Other families such as Troglodytidae (wrens) and Vireonidae (vireos) would be vaguely familiar. Still other families such as Accipitridae (hawks) and Strigidae (owls) are well-represented in both the Old World and New.

Here are some of the families I have noted recently in Volusia County:

Ciconiidae (Storks)

Wood Stork is the only stork that breeds in the United States. I note it regularly around Debary.

Wood Stork Mycteria americana at a pond at the entrance to my parents' subdivision in Debary, Florida, 24 Jan. 2017.
Wood Stork Mycteria americana at pond at entrance to my parents’ subdivision in Debary, Florida, 24 Jan. 2017.
Wood Stork sparring at Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan. 2017. Next to them is Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias, analogue to the Old World's Grey Heron A. cinerea. In foreground is Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor.
Wood Stork sparring at Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan. 2017. Next to them is Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias, American analogue to Eurasia’s Grey Heron A. cinerea. In foreground is Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

One of the most widespread of New World vultures is Black Vulture Coragyps atratus. Like Old World vultures, Black Vulture finds carrion by sight, and it lacks feathers on its face, crown, and throat. The birds are very tame and approached me when I lay on the ground for these closeups.

Black Vulture (adult), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture (adult), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture (adult), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture, adult. The bare face is unsightly but helps keep the bird clean.
Black Vulture (juv.), Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Juvenile Black Vulture.
Black Vultures mill around, Lake Woodruff, 26 Jan. 2017.
Black Vulture approached my camera as I lay on the ground.

Pandionidae (Ospreys)

In some cases, China and America share birds not only of the same family or genus, but also of the same species. Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus is common in Shanghai as well as in the wetlands of Volusia County.

Western Osprey carrying half a fish, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan. 2017.
Western Osprey carrying half a fish, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.

Accipitridae (Kites, Hawks, and Eagles)

A common forest hawk of the eastern United States, Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus is in the same genus as Shanghai’s Eastern Buzzard B. japonicus. On 27 Jan. at Gemini Springs Park, I photographed a pair mating.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 Jan. 2017. Gemini Springs Park. Debary, Florida, USA. Action in this photo occurred at 28.861771, -81.309276.

America’s Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius is immediately familiar to China-based birders. It is similar to, and was once considered conspecific with, Hen Harrier C. cyaneus.

Northern Harrier, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 28 Jan. 2017.
Northern Harrier, Lake Woodruff, 26 Jan.

Rallidae (Rails)

Shanghai has Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus; Florida offers King Rail R. elegans. I found a pair at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. All rails are hard, and a good view such as this one is an experience to be treasured.

King Rail Rallus elegans, © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 26 Jan. 2017. Lake Woodruff Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, Volusia County, Florida, USA. 29.106747, -81.372567.
King Rail Rallus elegans, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.

Gruidae (Cranes)

Volusia County is home to Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis. The cranes are a non-migratory population, and as suburbia has grown up around them, the cranes have not only adapted, but flourished. Here is a group outside my parents’ home in Debary, photographed through the window of my car.

Sandhill Crane, Debary, Florida, 27 Jan. 2017.
Sandhill Crane, Debary, 27 Jan. 2017.

Aramidae (Limpkin)

Limpkin Aramus guarauna is the sole member of Aramidae. It looks like a large rail or heron but is most closely related to cranes. The species ranges from Florida to Argentina. At Gemini Springs I found a Limpkin feeding with American White Ibis Eudocimus albus.

Limpkin (R) with American White Ibis, Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan. 2017.
Limpkin (R) with American White Ibis, Gemini Springs Park, 27 Jan.

Strigidae (Owls)

Barred Owl Strix varia is an owl of dense forests. It is common, and its hoot is well-known. Strix is a large genus and includes China’s Himalayan Owl S. nivicolum.

Pair at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.
Pair at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 26 Jan.
Sleepy Barred Owl at Gemini Springs, 28 Jan.
Sleepy Barred Owl at Gemini Springs, 28 Jan.
The Barred Owl was perching on a palm tree near a well-traveled bicycle path. No one noticed it.
The sleepy Barred Owl was perching on a palm tree near a well-traveled bicycle path.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus is part of a genus of large, powerful woodpeckers that includes Eurasia’s Black Woodpecker D. martius. Pileated Woodpecker flourishes in dense forests with large trees, of which there are many in central Florida.

Pileated Woodpecker, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 25 Jan.
Pileated Woodpecker, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, 25 Jan.

This is Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus. Melanerpes contains 24 species, all in the Americas.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, 27 Jan.
Red-bellied Woodpecker, 27 Jan.

Vireonidae (Vireos)

Vireonidae is a group of small to mid-sized passerines. Most live in the New World. White-bellied Erpornis and the shrike-babblers occur in China. In recent days in Florida I have found White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus and Blue-headed Vireo V. solitarius.

White-eyed Vireo with ladybug, Gemini, 24 Jan.
White-eyed Vireo with ladybug, Gemini, 24 Jan.

Regulidae (Goldcrests, Kinglets)

All six members of Regulidae are in a single genus, Regulus. Goldcrest Regulus regulus can be found in winter and on migration in Shanghai. North America has the very similar Ruby-crowned Kinglet R. calendula.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet searches for tiny arthropods very much in the manner of its Eurasian cousin Goldcrest.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet searches for tiny arthropods very much in the manner of its Eurasian cousin Goldcrest. Females, such as this one photographed 24 Jan. at Gemini, lack the ruby crown.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

The sole Old World representative of Troglodytidae is Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes. In Florida I have had House Wren T. aedon, Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris, and the accomplished songster Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus.

Carolina Wren, Gemini, 24 Jan.
Carolina Wren, Gemini, 24 Jan.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

The New World warblers are an important passerine family confined to the New World. Most species are arboreal and insectivorous and fill niches similar to those filled in the Old World by leaf warblers. Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia is the sole member of its genus. It is the only New World warbler to move up and down tree trunks in the manner of a nuthatch.

Black-and-white Warbler, Gemini, 28 Jan.
Black-and-white Warbler, Gemini, 28 Jan.

Icteridae (Icterids)

Icterids are a strictly New World family. Boat-tailed Grackle Quiscalus major lives along the U.S. coast from New York to Texas. In Florida it also occurs inland.

Boat-tailed Grackle, Gemini, 28 Jan.
Boat-tailed Grackle, Gemini, 28 Jan.

Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)

American “sparrows” are more closely related to Old World buntings. Both groups are in Emberizidae. Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis is a bird of open country. It breeds from Alaska through Canada and the northern Lower 48 states and is a winter visitor to Florida. Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana is most at home in wetland habitats. It too is a winter visitor to Florida. It breeds in the northern U.S. and Canada.

Savannah Sparrow, 26 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
Savannah Sparrow, 26 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
Swamp Sparrow, 25 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
Swamp Sparrow, 25 Jan. 2017, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals)

Cardinalidae is a family of finch-like seed-eating birds endemic to the New World. Painted Bunting Passerina ciris is often described as the most beautiful bird in North America.

Painted Bunting, Gemini Springs Park, 28 Jan. 2017.
Painted Bunting, Gemini Springs Park, 28 Jan. 2017.

My Equipment

I use a Nikon D3S that I purchased in October 2010. The camera has been a steady performer, and I have seen no need to replace it. My lens is the Nikkor 600 mm F/4. I mount my lens and camera atop a ​Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and ​MVH502AH video head. I use my iPhone 6 for landscape shots.

My Day Lists

Visit my eBird profile page for access to my day lists from Florida as well as China. You will need an eBird account to view the profile.

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Emeifeng 2015, Part 2

This post is about birding Emeifeng in the spring of 2015. The mountain in western Fujian, not to be confused with the more famous Emeishan in Sichuan, ranks high on Shanghai birders’ must-see lists. It is a reliable site for Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, and its vast forests provide habitat for other key southeastern Chinese species. A bit too far to drive, a bit too close to fly, Emeifeng is the perfect expedition for the high-speed train.

This post covers 28 to 31 May 2015, the second of my two four-day trips to the mountain. A post on the first trip, which took place 30 April to 3 May 2015, was published on 12 Jan. 2017.

The photo above, by Elaine Du, shows Craig Brelsford searching for Brown Bush Warbler in the pristine alpine scrub on Emeifeng, elev. 1650 m (5,410 ft.).

HIGHLIGHTS

Cabot's Tragopan, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.
Female Cabot’s Tragopan, Emeifeng. A mountain in western Fujian, Emeifeng (27.006583, 117.076389) is a reliable spot for Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge. For eight days in spring 2015, Elaine Du and I birded the thickly forested mountain, noting dozens of key southeastern Chinese species. (Craig Brelsford)

— Noting the five key game birds: Elliot’s Pheasant, Cabot’s Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, as well as the beautiful Chinese Bamboo Partridge

— Closely studying three Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni fokiensis, as well as having close encounters with White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius

Major breeding Phylloscopidae warblers of Emeifeng. Craig Brelsford.
Emeifeng is a good place to study Buff-throated Warbler (top L), Hartert’s Leaf Warbler (top R), Sulphur-breasted Warbler (bottom L), and White-spectacled Warbler (bottom R). All four species breed on the mountain. (Craig Brelsford)

— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng

— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed Forktail E. schistaceus, White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted Forktail E. maculatus bacatus

— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush

— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream

Yellow-cheeked Tit Machlolophus spilonotus rex, 3 May 2015.
Yellow-cheeked Tit, one of dozens of south China species we noted at Emeifeng. Machlolophus spilonotus rex was noted by us on seven of our eight birding days there. (Craig Brelsford)

— Noting 103 species, 81 on the first trip, 86 on the second. Among the birds we found were key southern Chinese species such as Black Bittern, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Great Barbet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Sultan Tit, Brown Bush Warbler, Small Niltava, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler

— Enjoying the clean air and unspoiled beauty of Emeifeng

Emeifeng mountain road, 2 May 2015. Craig Brelsford.
Michael Grunwell stands on the Emeifeng mountain road, 2 May 2015. The elevation here is 1350 m (4,430 ft.). A dense hardwood forest covers the mountainside. Cabot’s Tragopan and White-necklaced Partridge thrive in these woods. (Craig Brelsford)

Wed. 27 May 2015
Taining

During our first trip to Emeifeng, Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and I agreed to bird the mountain about a month later to see the changes four weeks would bring. Today, that second trip began. As in April, Elaine and I took the high-speed train from Shanghai to Nanchang and at Nanchang boarded the train to Taining. We once again checked in to Huada Hotel (Huádà Jiǔdiàn [华大酒店], +86 598-7817777).

With my camera in the repair shop, I was denied the opportunity to take photographs. I focused harder on good old-fashioned birding and made many sound recordings. The bird photos in this post come from other trips.

Thurs. 28 May 2015

Birds of Emeifeng, 28 May 2015. Red-billed Blue Magpie (L), and Verditer Flycatcher.
Birds of Emeifeng, 28 May 2015. L: Red-billed Blue Magpie, Emeifeng, 2 May 2015. R: Verditer Flycatcher, Laifengshan National Forest Park, Tengchong, Yunnan, 21 Feb. 2010. (Craig Brelsford)

On our return to Emeifeng, Elaine and I noted 57 species. Bird of the day was Elliot’s Pheasant. Other noteworthy birds were 5 Silver Pheasant and 16 Buffy Laughingthrush. Little Forktail became our fourth species of forktail seen at Emeifeng, and Yellow-cheeked Tit put on an amazing vocal display.

Elliot’s Pheasant was a life bird for Elaine and me. We found a male near the road to Qingyun Temple just above kilometer marker 8 at an elevation of 1100 m. The bird allowed us several seconds to view it before it slipped away. 4 of the 5 Silver Pheasant we noted were in a flock (3 males, 1 female) on a hillside just above km 6 at an elev. of 940 m.

As was the case four weeks ago, we noted White-spectacled Warbler only above elev. 1400 m. The song of this species, coming from various directions, was one of the most common bird sounds today around Qingyun Temple. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was not seen, but our other two “southern” leaf warblers from our earlier trip, Buff-throated Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler, were represented by 1 individual each. Buff-throated Warbler was found along the boardwalk to Qingyun Temple and is presumably one of the same pair that I met at that spot on 30 April. The Sulphur-breasted Warbler that I found four weeks ago responded to playback with song; today’s Sulphur-breasted Warbler responded with a brief call.

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Elephant Valley, Yunnan, 1 Jan. 2012.
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, a classic forest bird. We noted the species on four of our eight days at Emeifeng. I got this image at Elephant Valley, Yunnan, on 1 Jan. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Fog shrouded the Qingyun Temple area most of the day. When it finally cleared, around 15:00, birds became active, as though it were dawn. 8 Buffy Laughingthrush were the main component of a foraging party that included 3 Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. They moved through the forest next to the boardwalk. The loud, jazzy sound of Buffy Laughingthrush caused a carpenter working in the area to start singing along. Another powerful singer in that wood was Yellow-cheeked Tit. A beautiful male performed three distinct songs for us, stopping only to devour a caterpillar:

Yellow-cheeked Tit, Emeifeng, 28 May 2015 (00:18; 1.5 MB)

Yellow-cheeked Tit, Emeifeng, 28 May 2015 (00:05; 1 MB)

Besides the 8 Buffy Laughingthrush near the temple, we found a flock of 6 quickly crossing the road, 1 amid a flock of 25 Grey-headed Parrotbill, and 1 heard calling from some distant spot in the forest. A pair of Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler were foraging together and calling antiphonally. We found them near the villages in the lower country at an elevation of about 750 m.

Besides Elliot’s Pheasant and Little Forktail, Elaine and I today added Lesser Cuckoo, Masked Laughingthrush, Brown Dipper, and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker to our Emeifeng list.

For our driver we once again hired Dèng Zhōngpíng (邓忠平, +86 138-6059-6327; no English, non-smoker).

Fri. 29 May 2015

Elaine and I noted 63 species. The highlight of the day was finding Blue-throated Bee-eater and Oriental Dollarbird on a utility wire above Shuibu Reservoir. Blue-throated Bee-eater was new to our Emeifeng list and a lifer for Elaine. Other new birds were Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Common Kingfisher, Crested Kingfisher, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-naped Oriole, Black Drongo, Red-billed Starling, and White-rumped Munia.

Sat. 30 May 2015

A monotypic species, Brown Bush Warbler <em>Locustella luteoventris</em> ranges from India across southern China to Fujian and Zhejiang. At Emeifeng we found Brown Bush Warbler exclusively near Qingyun Temple in high-quality alpine scrub at elevations between 1500 m and 1600 m. We noted the bird only on the second half of the trip, on 30 and 31 May 2015. As my camera was in the shop, I got no photos of the Emeifeng Brown Bush Warblers. The photo here is of a Brown Bush Warbler at Mt. Wawu, Sichuan, taken by me on 10 July 2010.
A monotypic species, Brown Bush Warbler Locustella luteoventris ranges from India across southern China to Fujian and Zhejiang. At Emeifeng we found the species exclusively near Qingyun Temple in high-quality alpine scrub at elevations between 1500 m and 1700 m (4,920 ft. to 5,580 ft.). We noted the bird only on the second half of the trip, with 6 found on 30 May 2015 and 5 the next day. As my camera was in the shop in late May 2015, I got no photos of Brown Bush Warbler at Emeifeng. I shot the photos here at Mt. Wawu, Sichuan, 10 July 2010. (Craig Brelsford)

Michael Grunwell joined Elaine and me. We noted 54 species. Elliot’s Pheasant were seen in poor light, Cabot’s Tragopan appeared at an elevation of about 1400 m, Blue-throated Bee-eater were present by Shuibu Reservoir, and Brown Bush Warbler were staking out territories at the top of the Emeifeng altitudinal layer-cake.

The Elliot’s were near Shuibu Reservoir at an elevation of about 750 m. As darkness was falling, Michael, walking ahead of us along the road, inadvertently flushed a sub-adult male. Elaine and I arrived in time to see 5 females (or perhaps fledglings) exploding into flight from positions just a few meters from us. The tragopans were seen earlier but also in low light, this caused by fog.

Blue-throated Bee-eater, Qiliping, Hebei, 4 July 2011. Craig Brelsford.
Blue-throated Bee-eater was a surprising find in the forests around Shuibu Reservoir. I photographed this adult at Qiliping, Hubei (31.506333, 114.663000) on 4 July 2011. (Craig Brelsford)

The Blue-throated Bee-eater are a mystery; the species apparently has not bred in the area in recent memory. The habitat around Shuibu Reservoir seems favorable. There are plenty of vertical surfaces of soft earth in which to construct cavity nests, and the artificial lake is at a remote location, near the Fujian-Jiangxi border.

We noted all our Brown Bush Warbler at altitudes of 1500 m to 1700 m (between Qingyun Temple and the radio tower). At Emeifeng, the dense alpine scrub that Locustella luteoventris favors occurs only at those altitudes. Confident in their nearly impenetrable tangle of vegetation, the extreme skulkers allowed us to peek in from distances of less than 2 m. I recorded the soft, monotonous song of this species, like a sewing machine running or an automobile idling.

Brown Bush Warbler, sewing-machine song, Emeifeng, elev. ca. 1600 m, 30 May 2015 (00:06; 266 KB)

Brown Bush Warbler, sewing-machine song, Emeifeng, elev. ca. 1600 m, 30 May 2015 (00:24; 999 KB)

The three of us wanted to explore more of the high country on the peak directly opposite the radio tower, but clouds again engulfed the ridgeline, and rain started to fall.

A search for Spotted Elachura between kilometer markers 12 and 13 got us wet feet but no bird. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler also were not noted, a surprise given that we had heard these species singing and defending territories a month earlier.

Besides Brown Bush Warbler, Elaine and I today added Black Bittern and Asian Barred Owlet to our Emeifeng list.

Sun. 31 May 2015

Elaine Du in alpine scrub, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015.
Elaine Du in rich alpine scrub, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine and I noted 48 species. From the lodge area atop Emeifeng we walked to the little tower on the slope opposite the radio tower. The little tower sits amid pristine alpine scrub and is reachable only by foot. We walked to an elevation of about 1650 m. We were searching for Russet Bush Warbler and failed to find it. We found species similar to those in the scrub between the radio tower and Qingyun Temple, among them Brown Bush Warbler and Buff-throated Warbler.

Earlier, on the dirt road behind the locked gate in the lodge area, Mr. Deng came running back to me, signaling for me to come. We tiptoed a few steps, and there she was, the queen of the high forest, a female Cabot’s Tragopan. She was standing on the edge of the forest track. The tragopan did not flee but foraged calmly in front of us for two magic minutes before creeping silently into the forest.

The magic feeling continued in the alpine scrub. We saw no evidence of logging; the scrub is there not because an older forest was cut, but because Mother Nature intended it that way. The place exudes health and balance. Grass grows lushly, and one can look at almost any spot on the ground and find many types of colorful insects. Butterflies flit from flower to flower. When the clouds parted, we enjoyed the commanding view of the forest below. Flybys of Great Barbet and Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush enlivened the scene. White-necklaced Partridge, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, and Lesser Cuckoo called from hidden locations below. Buff-throated Warbler were busy patrolling their territories, standing sentinel atop the shrubs. Brown Bush Warbler were not calling spontaneously, and their presence might not have been detected but for their vigorous response to playback.

Rich alpine scrub, elev. 1600 m, Emeifeng, Fujian, 31 May 2015.
Another look at the rich alpine scrub atop Emeifeng on 31 May 2015. The grass there is lush, the turf thick, the smell of the earth fragrant. Insects abound. No goats graze, and there is no evidence of logging. The place exudes health and balance. (Craig Brelsford)

The day was nearly windless, and few tourists were visiting the top. The golden silence was broken only by birds, among them a drumming Speckled Piculet. The songs of Blyth’s Shrike-babbler and White-spectacled Warbler carried far. In the contest of laughingthrush songs, Chinese Hwamei took the prize for power, and Buffy Laughingthrush won for melody. Here is a selection of what we heard:

White-spectacled Warbler, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (00:03; 913 KB)

Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (00:10; 1.2 MB)

Speckled Piculet, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (01:10; 3.6 MB)

Driving back down the hill, we found a male Silver Pheasant at ca. 1300 m and a female Elliot’s Pheasant at ca. 1200 m.

In addition to Speckled Piculet, Black-collared Starling was new to our Emeifeng list.

PHOTOS

Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, by Craig Brelsford.
Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler was noted by us on three of our eight days at Emeifeng. Pomatorhinus swinhoei is endemic to southeast China. I got these photos 15 Nov. 2014 in Wuyuan County, Jiangxi. (Craig Brelsford)
Crested Kingfisher, Qiliping, Hubei, 3 July 2011. Craig Brelsford.
A Crested Kingfisher emerges from a creek after an unsuccessful dive. I took this photo 3 July 2011 at Qiliping, Hubei (31.506333, 114.663000). On 29 May 2015 at Shuibu Reservoir below Emeifeng, Elaine and I noted 3 Crested Kingfisher. (Craig Brelsford)
Asian Barred Owlet, Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden, Yunnan, China, 20 Jan. 2012. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
On 30 May 2015 we noted a single Asian Barred Owlet in farmland below Emeifeng. The 30 species of pygmy owl, genus Glaucidium, occur on all the inhabited continents except Australia. Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides ranges from the Himalaya to Southeast Asia and south China. I photographed this individual at Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden (21.932582, 101.248453), Yunnan on 20 Jan. 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Hangzhou Botanical Garden, 21 June 2008. Craig Brelsford.
We found Chinese Bamboo Partridge on seven of our eight birding days at Emeifeng. I photographed this pair at Hangzhou Botanical Park on 21 June 2008. (Craig Brelsford)

LIST OF PLACE NAMES

Emeifeng (Éméifēng [峨嵋峰])

Emeifeng is in western Fujian. (Wikimedia/Craig Brelsford)
Emeifeng is in western Fujian (red), near the border with Jiangxi, 635 km (395 miles) SW of People’s Square in Shanghai. (Wikimedia/Craig Brelsford)

Mountain W Fujian. Elev.: 1528 m (5,013 ft.) at Qingyun Temple (Qìngyún Sì [庆云寺]). Higher slopes reach elevations of 1700 m. 27.006583, 117.076389. Also Emei Feng.

Fujian (Fújiàn Shěng [福建省])

Fujian (red) is a province in southeast China.
Fujian (red) is a province in southeast China (yellow). (Wikimedia/Craig Brelsford)

Coastal province SE China. Pop.: 37.7 million. Area: 121,400 sq. km (46,900 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): 20% larger than Jiangsu (but with less than half as many inhabitants). Same size as North Korea & Pennsylvania; slightly smaller than Greece.

Sanming Prefecture (Sānmíng Shì [三明市]): sub-provincial administrative area W Fujian. Officially, Sanming “City” (市).

Shancheng Zhen (Shānchéng Zhèn [衫城镇]): urbanized area & seat of Taining County. Commonly referred to as “Taining.”

Taining County (Tàiníng Xiàn [泰宁县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Sanming Prefecture.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Along with Birds of Southeast Asia, my first reference at Emeifeng.

John MacKinnon wrote the most influential field guide ever published about China's birds.
John MacKinnon recently published a post on the owls of Inner Mongolia.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Co-first reference at Emeifeng.

Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World. xeno-canto.org. Craig has downloaded hundreds of calls from this Web site.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Per Alström sent me a recording of Hartert’s Leaf Warbler. Michael Grunwell’s recommendation of Emeifeng enticed us to go; his knowledge of the area was indispensable.

Click here for the first post in our two-post series about birding Emeifeng.

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Emeifeng 2015, Part 1

This post is about birding Emeifeng in the spring of 2015. The mountain in western Fujian, not to be confused with the more famous Emeishan in Sichuan, ranks high on Shanghai birders’ must-see lists. It is a reliable site for Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, and its vast forests provide habitat for other key southeastern Chinese species. A bit too far to drive, a bit too close to fly, Emeifeng is the perfect expedition for the high-speed train.

This post covers 30 April to 3 May 2015, the first of my two four-day trips to the mountain. A post on the second trip, which took place 28 to 31 May 2015, will be published two weeks from today, on Thurs. 26 Jan. 2017.

The photo above shows Elaine Du searching for Brown Bush Warbler in the pristine alpine scrub on Emeifeng, elev. 1650 m (5,410 ft.).

HIGHLIGHTS

Cabot's Tragopan, 1 May 2015.
Male Cabot’s Tragopan, Emeifeng. A mountain in western Fujian, Emeifeng (27.006583, 117.076389) is a reliable spot for Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge. For eight days in spring 2015, Elaine Du and I birded the thickly forested mountain, noting dozens of key southeastern Chinese species. (Craig Brelsford)

— Noting the five key game birds: Elliot’s Pheasant, Cabot’s Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, as well as the beautiful Chinese Bamboo Partridge

— Closely studying three Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni fokiensis, as well as having close encounters with White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius

Major breeding Phylloscopidae warblers of Emeifeng. Craig Brelsford.
Emeifeng is a good place to study warblers. Clockwise from top L: Buff-throated Warbler, Hartert’s Leaf Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler, and Sulphur-breasted Warbler. All four breed on the mountain. (Craig Brelsford)

— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng

— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed Forktail E. schistaceus, White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted Forktail E. maculatus bacatus

— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush

— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream

Collared Owlet, 30 April 2015.
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei, one of dozens of south China species at Emeifeng. (Craig Brelsford)

— Noting 103 species, 81 on the first trip, 86 on the second. Among the birds we found were key southern Chinese species such as Black Bittern, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Great Barbet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Sultan Tit, Brown Bush Warbler, Small Niltava, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler

— Enjoying the clean air and unspoiled beauty of Emeifeng

Emeifeng is full of high-quality mountain habitat. This is alpine scrub, elev. 1500 m. Here, Buff-throated Warbler and Brown Bush Warbler thrive.
High-quality alpine scrub on the slopes above Qingyun Temple (27.010034, 117.077515). The elevation here is 1600 m (5,250 ft.). Buff-throated Warbler and Brown Bush Warbler breed here. (Craig Brelsford)

Simple List of the Species of Bird Noted Around Emeifeng, Fujian, China, 30 April 2015 to 3 May 2015 and 28-31 May 2015 (103 species)

Mandarin Duck
White-necklaced Partridge
Chinese Bamboo Partridge
Cabot’s Tragopan
Silver Pheasant
Elliot’s Pheasant
Black Bittern
Chinese Pond Heron
Eastern Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Mountain Hawk-Eagle
Black Eagle
Crested Goshawk
Chinese Sparrowhawk
Besra
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)
Oriental Turtle Dove
Spotted Dove
Large Hawk-Cuckoo
Lesser Cuckoo
Collared Owlet
Asian Barred Owlet
House Swift
Oriental Dollarbird
Common Kingfisher
Crested Kingfisher
Blue-throated Bee-eater
Great Barbet
Speckled Piculet
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Bay Woodpecker
Grey-chinned Minivet
Brown Shrike
White-bellied Erpornis
Blyth’s Shrike-babbler
Black-naped Oriole
Black Drongo
Eurasian Jay
Red-billed Blue Magpie
Grey Treepie
Sultan Tit
Japanese Tit
Yellow-cheeked Tit
Collared Finchbill
Light-vented Bulbul
Mountain Bulbul
Chestnut Bulbul
Black Bulbul
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Pygmy Wren-babbler
Rufous-faced Warbler
Black-throated Bushtit
Buff-throated Warbler
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Two-barred Warbler
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler
Sulphur-breasted Warbler
White-spectacled Warbler
Chestnut-crowned Warbler
Brown Bush Warbler
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler
Rufous-capped Babbler
Dusky Fulvetta
Huet’s Fulvetta
Chinese Hwamei
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Buffy Laughingthrush
Masked Laughingthrush
Red-billed Leiothrix
Grey-headed Parrotbill
Indochinese Yuhina
Black-chinned Yuhina
Spotted Elachura
Crested Myna
Red-billed Starling
Black-collared Starling
Chinese Blackbird
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Small Niltava
Verditer Flycatcher
Mugimaki Flycatcher
Little Forktail
Slaty-backed Forktail
White-crowned Forktail
Spotted Forktail
Blue Whistling Thrush
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush
Grey Bush Chat
Brown Dipper
Orange-bellied Leafbird
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Fork-tailed Sunbird
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail

Wed. 29 April 2015
Taining

Elaine and I took the high-speed train from Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai to Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi. There, we transferred to the train to Taining. We checked in to the perfectly adequate Huada Hotel (Huádà Jiǔdiàn [华大酒店], +86 598-7817777).

Thurs. 30 April 2015

Startled by our car, a Silver Pheasant scoots from the roadside back into the safety of the forest. Emeifeng, 30 April 2015. Craig Brelsford.
Startled by our car, a Silver Pheasant scoots from the roadside back into the safety of the forest. Lophura nycthemera is a mainly tropical Southeast Asian and south China species. The race at Emeifeng, fokiensis, is the northernmost subspecies, ranging into Zhejiang. (Craig Brelsford)

What a first day at Emeifeng! Elaine and I noted 49 species. We heard White-necklaced Partridge, saw Silver Pheasant, photographed Buff-throated Warbler and Collared Owlet, and missed Cabot’s Tragopan and Elliot’s Pheasant. We got close views and good sound-recordings of White-spectacled Warbler, and we found a pair of Small Niltava.

Elaine and I drove up the mountain this morning with our easygoing driver, Dèng Zhōngpíng (邓忠平, +86 138-6059-6327; no English, non-smoker). The 30 km trip from Taining to Emeifeng started at Huada Hotel. In the lower country we found Chinese Sparrowhawk and Oriental Dollarbird. We saw the single male Silver Pheasant at 1150 m. Just below the end of the road at 1450 m, a bird wave included 2 stunning Yellow-cheeked Tit, the Small Niltava, and the Collared Owlet.

At the top we met Steven An, who was leading a bird tour that included Tony Sawbridge. After those birders left, we had the lodge area to ourselves. Large Hawk-Cuckoo were uttering their mad cry of “Brain fever!” 2 Black Eagle were soaring elegantly above. A Crested Goshawk appeared briefly.

Birds of Emeifeng, 30 April 2015: Clockwise from top L: Small Niltava, female (L) and male; Grey Bush Chat; Black-chinned Yuhina; and Crested Goshawk. Craig Brelsford.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 30 April 2015. Clockwise from top L: Small Niltava Niltava macgrigoriae signata, female (L) and male; Grey Bush Chat Saxicola ferreus haringtoni, male; Black-chinned Yuhina Yuhina nigrimenta; and Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus indicus. (Craig Brelsford)

The morning fog burned off, revealing a brilliant blue sky. As the forenoon wore on, the birds retired. Elaine and I walked down a wide trail, seeing no one, reveling in the solitude, peacefulness, and unspoiled beauty of Emeifeng. We found 2 Mugimaki Flycatcher and the White-spectacled Warbler. A comparison of our recordings with those of Frank Lambert helped us ID our White-spectacled Warbler.

In the late afternoon, we found Buff-throated Warbler in a big tree near the boardwalk leading to the temple. 2 Grey Bush Chat were also using the tree.

White-necklaced Partridge were heard at various places throughout the day.

Fri. 1 May 2015

Sultan Tit, Emeifeng, 2 May 2016.
Sultan Tit, Emeifeng. The largest tit and among the most spectacular, Melanochlora sultanea has a mainly Himalayan and Southeast Asian distribution. The race at Emeifeng, seorsa, is an isolated group, occurring in Fujian and Guangxi. (Craig Brelsford)

Rain and fog kept species count low (37), but the species we found were good ones, with Cabot’s Tragopan leading the list. We heard Spotted Elachura. Elaine was much impressed by Sultan Tit, and she had a close encounter with Koklass Pheasant. 9 Silver Pheasant tiptoed through the bamboo forest.

A Sulphur-breasted Warbler helped us find the Koklass. Driving slowly up the mountain road at a point about 1250 m above sea level, we heard birdsong unfamiliar to us. I walked downhill toward the sound, and Elaine walked straight to the edge of the road. There she found the Koklass, a male. She called me back, but I arrived too late. During our vigil for its reappearance, I heard its raspy call.

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, 1 May 2015.
Sulphur-breasted Warbler. This is a jewel of a leaf warbler, golden yellow with a boldly patterned head. (Craig Brelsford)

The Sulphur-breasted Warbler was waiting for me. This is a jewel of a Phylloscopus, golden yellow below with a boldly patterned head (golden supercilium and coronal stripe, black lateral crown stripes). Its high-pitched song is sweet music:

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, song, 1 May 2015 (00:18; 1.5 MB)

We stopped at a creek containing Pygmy Wren-babbler. Relishing the chance to see this common but little-seen bird, I crawled into the vegetation near the source of the sound. Responding to playback, the wren-babbler came closer and closer until, like magic, it popped its head out from behind a rock just a meter from me. I watched this streamside specialist for several seconds.

At the same creek we played the song of Spotted Elachura. I played it so many times that I came to know the thin, high notes thoroughly—so much so that, long after I had turned the recording off and heard the song, I checked my speaker to make sure it was off. Fearing that my wishful thinking had caused a hallucination, I decided to wait before claiming a “tick.” The song stopped, but several minutes later, I heard it again, stronger. This time Elaine heard it also. I climbed up the steep creek bed, but I never heard the song again, and I have yet to see Spotted Elachura. But we know what we heard.

We found a female Cabot’s at 1320 m, below the temple, and a male at 1260 m.

Sat. 2 May 2015

Birds of Emeifeng, 2 May 2016. Great Barbet (L) and male Chinese Sparrowhawk. Craig Brelsford.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 2 May 2015. Great Barbet (L) and adult Chinese Sparrowhawk. (Craig Brelsford)

Michael Grunwell joined Elaine and me. We noted 45 species. As we drove down the X762 near the Fujian-Jiangxi border, Elaine spotted a Cabot’s Tragopan. At dusk, at the well-known spot for Elliot’s Pheasant (27.038276, 117.094207), we heard Dusky Fulvetta:

Dusky Fulvetta, short song, below Emeifeng, elev. ca. 730 m, 2 May 2015 (00:03; 897 KB)

Rain, sometimes heavy, hampered us throughout the day but let up by late afternoon. Among the new species for our trip were Mandarin Duck, Brown Shrike, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Chinese Hwamei, Slaty-backed Forktail, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, and Grey Wagtail.

We had the pleasure of leading Michael to two lifers today: Sulphur-breasted Warbler and Buff-throated Warbler.

The Mandarin Duck were seen at a small lake near the Elliot’s Pheasant site. The site is a row of fallow rice paddies at elev. ca. 730 m.

Sun. 3 May 2015

Hartert's Leaf Warbler, 3 May 2015.
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler, 3 May 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

Michael Grunwell once again joined Elaine and me. Under brilliant blue skies, we noted 59 species. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was a life bird for everyone and the third “southern” leaf warbler we found at Emeifeng, the others being Buff-throated Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler. While driving we flushed 2 Cabot’s Tragopan and a White-necklaced Partridge; in the confusion Michael managed to spot the partridge. I found yet another Silver Pheasant. We heard 2 Buffy Laughingthrush. We struck out on Elliot’s Pheasant but while searching for it found Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler. Among the other additions to our trip list were 4 Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, 2 Grey-headed Parrotbill, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Verditer Flycatcher, and Fork-tailed Sunbird.

The Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was found on the road to the radio tower at an elevation of 1560 m. It flicked its wings one at a time, a territorial display. It sang powerfully in response to playback (00:24; 1.8 MB):

One of our goals for Emeifeng was to positively ID, photograph, and sound-record Phylloscopus and Seicercus warblers, a task easiest to perform in spring when these birds are singing. We missed Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, but with our work on Hartert’s Leaf, Buff-throated, and Sulphur-breasted, as well as our coverage of White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius, we were more successful than I expected.

White-spectacled Warbler, 3 May 2015.
White-spectacled Warbler, 3 May 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

Mr. Deng drove us to the radio tower. This is the highest point (ca. 1700 m) for miles around, and the habitat is alpine scrub, much unlike the forest stretching like a carpet below. Buff-throated Warbler greeted us at the top. We found an aggressive White-spectacled Warbler at 1620 m.

Visibility was excellent all day, and in the late afternoon the world was bathed in a golden hue. We left Emeifeng for Nanchang having accomplished most of our goals and with a feeling of satisfaction.

PHOTOS

Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015. (Craig Brelsford)
Birds of Emeifeng, 1 May 2015. Clockwise from top L: Collared Owlet showing true and false face; Chestnut Bulbul; and Cabot's Tragopan running across the road. Craig Brelsford.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 1 May 2015. Clockwise from top L: Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei brodiei showing true and false face; Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus canipennis in thick forest at 1270 masl; and Cabot’s Tragopan Tragopan caboti running across the Emeifeng mountain road. (Craig Brelsford)
Maritime Striped Squirrel, Emeifeng.
Maritime Striped Squirrel Tamiops maritimus. (Craig Brelsford)
Birds of Emeifeng, 3 May 2015. Clockwise from L: Collared Finchbill, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Brown Shrike, and Indochinese Yuhina.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 3 May 2015. Clockwise from L: Collared Finchbill, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Brown Shrike, and Indochinese Yuhina. (Craig Brelsford)

Click here for the second post in our two-post series about birding Emeifeng.

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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.

SHANGHAI RARITIES

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)

Qinghai

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)

Heilongjiang

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

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).

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Messengers

Editor’s note: In recent weeks, Shanghai has had extraordinary visits by three species of crane. Since 12 Nov. 2016, 3 Siberian Crane, a Critically Endangered species, have been recorded regularly in a reclaimed area of Hengsha Island (photo above, left). On 10 Dec. 2016, Endangered Red-crowned Crane made the first recorded visit by that species to Cape Nanhui (top right). Also since 12 Nov. 2016, Vulnerable Hooded Crane has been recorded regularly at Cape Nanhui (bottom right). Before 12 Nov., Hooded Crane had never been recorded on the Shanghai Peninsula. Photos by Craig Brelsford.

The appearance on 10 Dec. 2016 of 2 Red-crowned Crane at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui was more than just a historic, first-ever sighting. It was a message. The endangered cranes, as well as the Siberian Crane on Hengsha Island and Hooded Crane at Cape Nanhui, are telling us that habitat is steadily disappearing elsewhere along the Chinese coast, particularly in Jiangsu; that the habitats in Shanghai are some of the best that remain; and that those habitats require world-class protection. The most pressing need is the creation of a world-class, small to mid-sized wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui.

Siberian Crane, Hengsha, 7 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Siberian Crane in flight. Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016 (Craig Brelsford)

Errant cranes migrating along the Chinese coast may once have settled for a while somewhere in Jiangsu. Every year, however, cranes migrating along the coast of that densely populated province find fewer and fewer places suitable to them. My wife Elaine Du and I have surveyed the Jiangsu coastline from Qidong on the Yangtze River 250 km north to Yancheng National Nature Reserve. We have seen with our own eyes the dramatic transformation of the Jiangsu coast. Even areas in Jiangsu receiving considerable international attention, such as Yangkou and the coastal areas of Dongtai, are under threat.

Cape Nanhui may not seem like a first-rate natural area, but it is in better condition than almost any place I have seen between Qidong and Yancheng. I say, therefore, that the recent crane sightings in Shanghai have come about in large part because elsewhere so much has been lost. The cranes have nowhere else to go.

Shanghai birders search for the Hooded Crane sojourning at Cape Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Shanghai birders search for the Hooded Crane sojourning at Cape Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. The new city of Lingang, which did not exist 10 years ago, looms in the background. (Craig Brelsford)

And that is why conserving Cape Nanhui is so important. Shanghai is facing a crisis, a “danger-opportunity” (危机). The 危 or danger is that amid the wholesale destruction of so much coastal habitat elsewhere, Shanghai will follow suit and destroy its remaining good habitat. The 机 or opportunity is for Shanghai to gather into its bosom the birds ejected from Jiangsu—to be not only the economic but also the conservationist leader on the Chinese coast. The creation at Cape Nanhui of an easily accessible, world-class, small to mid-sized wetland reserve along the lines of Sungei Buloh in Singapore would be a way of avoiding the 危 and seizing the 机.

The case for an easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could scarcely be more clear-cut:

(1) Cape Nanhui is of extraordinary environmental importance. The tip of the Shanghai Peninsula between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay, Cape Nanhui is a stepping stone for birds migrating across those bodies of water. Cape Nanhui also holds large reed beds, habitat critical to Reed Parrotbill and other species at risk.

The largest component of the city-province of Shanghai is the Shanghai Peninsula, a projection of land between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the peninsula, is a critically important stop for migrating birds, and is completely unprotected. A nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a third ‘stepping stone’ for birds crossing the Yangtze Delta, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha. Photo by NASA, customized by Craig Brelsford.
Cape Nanhui is the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula, a headland between the mouth of the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. As the satellite image above illustrates, a nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a ‘stepping stone’ for birds crossing the Yangtze Delta, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha as well as the largely undeveloped reclaimed land on Hengsha. (Newly reclaimed land on Hengsha not shown in this 2005 image.) (NASA/Craig Brelsford)

The 2 Red-crowned Crane this past Saturday were the latest in a parade of endangered birds that I and other birders have noted at the Cape over the years. Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper uses Cape Nanhui, as does Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. Around 2 percent of the world’s Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill are dependent on Cape Nanhui for several months each year. Large reed beds remain at Cape Nanhui and are the final strongholds on the Shanghai Peninsula of Near Threatened Marsh Grassbird and Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill. The latter species, a candidate for Shanghai Provincial Bird, will virtually disappear from mainland Shanghai if the reed beds at Nanhui are destroyed.

(2) Shanghai is clearly under-performing on the conservationist front. More must be done, and a good place to begin is Cape Nanhui.

Hen Harrier (top) and Eastern Marsh Harrier, Cape Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. These photos show both the threats to the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula and the environmental opportunities still there. On the one hand, buildings and roads continue to encroach on the reed beds; the large farm building in the bottom photo was completed only in the past year. Further encroachments will erode the quality still further and deprive species such as Reed Parrotbill of even more habitat. On the other hand, habitat good enough to attract harriers remains. In the bottom photo, the harrier is flying directly over the reed bed (<a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/30%C2%B055'46.2%22N+121%C2%B057'37.1%22E/@30.929492,121.9581253,872m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d30.929492!4d121.960314" target="_blank">30.929492, 121.960314</a>) adjacent to the defunct wetland reserve. This reed bed covers a square kilometer, is untouched, and provides habitat critical to species dependent on reeds, such as Near Threatened <a href="http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22715480/0" target="_blank">Marsh Grassbird</a> and <a href="http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22721016/0" target="_blank">Japanese Reed Bunting</a>. In the top photo, the untouched reed bed is visible in the mid-ground, with the harrier making use of adjacent rice fields. Even small reserves can be effective, especially if bordered by agricultural areas. If managed correctly, a small to mid-sized reserve at Cape Nanhui would cost little, deliver much, and give environmental face to Shanghai. Photos by Craig Brelsford.
Hen Harrier (top) and Eastern Marsh Harrier, Cape Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. These photos show both the threats to the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula and the environmental opportunities still there. On the one hand, buildings and roads continue to encroach on the reed beds; the large farm building in the bottom photo was completed only in the past year. Further encroachments will erode the quality still further and deprive species such as Reed Parrotbill of even more habitat. On the other hand, habitat good enough to attract harriers remains. In the bottom photo, the harrier is flying directly over the reed bed (30.929492, 121.960314) adjacent to the defunct wetland reserve. This reed bed covers a square kilometer, is untouched, and provides habitat critical to species dependent on reeds, such as Near Threatened Marsh Grassbird and Japanese Reed Bunting. In the top photo, the untouched reed bed is visible in the mid-ground, with the harrier making use of adjacent rice fields. Even small reserves can be effective, especially if bordered by agricultural areas. If managed correctly, a small to mid-sized reserve at Cape Nanhui would cost little, deliver much, and give environmental face to Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

Nature reserves have been established only on the extreme fringes of the city-province (which is a third the size of Wales). There are no reserves in mainland Pudong, a giant coastal district nearly twice the size of Singapore. Nowhere in this megalopolis can residents without a car enjoy the natural side of Shanghai, a city with an extraordinarily rich natural heritage. There is no known plan to conserve any of the dozens of square kilometers of reclaimed land on Hengsha.

(3) Because it is in the back yard of Shanghai, a city-province of more than 25 million people, a well-run, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could be the match to light the fire of conservation across all China.

Shanghai birders in defunct wetland reserve, Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. As China becomes a middle-income country, Chinese people will find themselves with more and more disposable income and leisure time. This is especially the case in Shanghai, whose living standards are rapidly approaching those of advanced Western countries. Middle-class Chinese will increasingly demand places for rest, relaxation, and nature appreciation. Shanghai currently has such places, and one of them is Cape Nanhui. The tip of the Shanghai Peninsula already has beautiful reed beds and amazing migratory birds, the inheritance of natural Shanghai. With proper management, Shanghai could preserve and showcase those wonders, giving future generations of Shanghainese a gift that will never stop giving. L-R: Zhāng Huá (张华), Zhāng Xuěhán (张雪寒), Lán Bāngxiàn (蓝邦宪), Lán Xī (兰溪), Craig Brelsford, Cài Jiàndōng (蔡见东), Zhāng Xiǎoyàn (张小艳), Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽), Chéng Yīxuān (程一轩), Xú Yáng (徐扬). Photo by Elaine Du.
Shanghai birders in defunct wetland reserve, Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. The people you see in this picture are the Johnny Appleseeds of birding and nature appreciation in China. Though still few in number, people such as they are laying the foundation for a future in which more Chinese cherish the natural environment. In Shanghai living standards have attained those of Western countries. Shanghainese such as these birders now possess disposable income and leisure time. Increasingly, these middle-class people will demand places for rest, relaxation, and nature appreciation. Shanghai, a city-province half as large as Northern Ireland, currently has such places, and the most easily accessible of them is Cape Nanhui. In the face of unremitting development, and despite being under no environmental protection, the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula still holds considerable reed beds and attracts many endangered migratory birds. With proper management, Shanghai could preserve and showcase the wonders of Cape Nanhui, giving future generations of Shanghainese a gift that will never stop giving. L-R: Zhāng Huá (张华), Zhāng Xuěhán (张雪寒), Lán Bāngxiàn (蓝邦宪), Lán Xī (兰溪), Craig Brelsford, Cài Jiàndōng (蔡见东), Zhāng Xiǎoyàn (张小艳), Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽), Chéng Yīxuān (程一轩), Xú Yáng (徐扬). (Elaine Du)

Hundreds of thousands of children could visit the reserve with their parents using nothing more than the Metro and a quick taxi ride and be sleeping in their own bed that night, dreaming about the wild birds they had seen that day. For millions of parents and their kids, the weekend could be “Saturday, Disney; Sunday, Cape Nanhui Wetland.” A day at a Cape Nanhui Wetland would be an early introduction to the glories of natural Shanghai and would foster an appreciation of the natural world.

If Shanghai can be a world economic center and have world-class airports and a world-class skyline and world-class entertainment such as Disney, then it can and must have world-class preservation of its priceless coastline and migratory birds.

I repeat: The case for a world-class, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui is clear-cut.

111 SPECIES AT CORE SHANGHAI SITES

Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).
Shanghai birders at Nanhui. On 10 Dec. 2016, this international team attained the first-ever record of Red-crowned Crane on the Shanghai Peninsula. Standing, L-R: Andy Lee, Xú Yáng (徐扬), Xú Fènqiáng (徐奋强), Cài Jiàndōng (蔡见东), Michael Grunwell, Russell Boyman, & Lán Bāngxiàn (蓝邦宪). Bottom row: Zhāng Xuěhán (张雪寒), Zhāng Xiǎoyàn (张小艳), Zhāng Huá (张华), Lán Xī (兰溪), Chéng Yīxuān (程一轩), Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Mrs. Hao, & Hǎo Lèzhī (郝乐之). (Hǎo Zhàokuān [郝兆宽]).
Elaine and I birded four of the eight days between 3 Dec. and 10 Dec. 2016, noting 111 species. We birded three days at Cape Nanhui, half a day on Hengsha Island, and half a day at Binjiang Forest Park in Pudong. On 10 Dec. Elaine and I led a group of members of the Shanghai Birding WeChat group on a tour of Nanhui. We birded the other days with Shanghai-based U.K. birder Michael Grunwell and U.S. birder Susan Lessner.

Major highlights were 2 Red-crowned Crane and Hooded Crane at Cape Nanhui and 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha as well as Baikal Teal and Red-breasted Flycatcher at Nanhui and Ferruginous Duck on Hengsha.

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Nanhui, 6 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Red-breasted Flycatcher, Nanhui, 6 Dec. 2016. Rare Shanghai record. Note pinkish bill. (Craig Brelsford)

Nanhui also gave us three-day counts of 20 Vulnerable Swan Goose, 14 Greater White-fronted Goose, 190 Tundra Swan (bewickii), 255 Common Shelduck, 11 Greater Scaup, 4 Black-necked Grebe, Brown Crake, Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull, 2 Mew Gull Larus canus, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull (heuglini), late Eurasian Wryneck, uncommon winter visitor Dusky Warbler, 22 Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill, and 2 extralimital Common Starling.

We noted shorebird stragglers at Nanhui, among them Near Threatened Eurasian Curlew (2), Bar-tailed Godwit (1), and Red Knot (3). We recorded just 2 Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, and we found 3 Black-collared Starling near Pudong Airport.

Hen Harrier with Peregrine Falcon, Hengsha, 6 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Hen Harrier with Peregrine Falcon, Hengsha, 7 Dec. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Hengsha gave us a rare Shanghai sighting of adult-male Hen Harrier as well as 3 Chinese Grey Shrike and impressive numbers of buntings. In a single stretch of scrub just 500 m long, we counted 14 Little Bunting, 18 Rustic Bunting, 17 Yellow-throated Bunting, 4 Black-faced Bunting, and 150 Pallas’s Reed Bunting.

Binjiang Forest Park once again proved to be one of the only places in urban Shanghai where Great Spotted Woodpecker is reliable. Thrushes were numerous, with Naumann’s Thrush leading the list.

PHOTOS

Dusky Thrush, 3 Dec. 2016, Nanhui. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Dusky Thrush, 3 Dec. 2016, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Common Pochard, Nanhui, 6 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Common Pochard, a diving duck. Nanhui, 6 Dec. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Zitting Cisticola, Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Zitting Cisticola, a drop of color in the drab scrub. Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Collared Finchbill, Binjiang Forest Park, Pudong, 7 Dec. 2016. Digiscoped image by Elaine Du.
Collared Finchbill, parking lot of Binjiang Forest Park, Pudong, 7 Dec. 2016. Feral or natural? The jury’s still out on Binjiang’s Collared Finchbill, a mainly south Chinese species. (Elaine Du)
Shanghai birders viewing Baikal Teal. 10 Dec. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Shanghai birders viewing Baikal Teal at Cape Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

The Grand Shanghai Tour

Elaine Du and I birded five of the eight days from Thurs. 24 Nov. through Thurs. 1 Dec. 2016. We noted 119 species. We did the Shanghai Grand Tour, covering Zhongshan Park, a small, inner-city park; Binjiang Forest Park and Binhai Forest Park, large, suburban parks; the coastal areas at Cape Nanhui; Hengsha Island; and Chongming Island. We birded one of the days with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and two days with Phil Birch.

We had 3 Siberian Crane and 8 Mandarin Duck on Hengsha, 98 Hooded Crane at their normal wintering spot on Chongming Island, 5 Baikal Teal and Japanese Grosbeak at Cape Nanhui, and 51 Swan Goose at Nanhui and on Chongming. Black-faced Spoonbill were present in diminished numbers at Nanhui and on Hengsha.

Nanhui gave us Common Shelduck, Greater Scaup, Black-necked Grebe at Dishui Lake, and Brown-cheeked Rail near Iron Track. Eurasian Curlew were foraging on mud near 3 Black-tailed Godwit and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. At a high-tide roost in the defunct nature reserve, a single late Red-necked Stint stood out among 600 Dunlin. We found 2 Bluethroat at a new location north of the Dazhi River. Reed Parrotbill maintained their regular presence around Iron Track, and we found 4 Rustic Bunting at Binhai Forest Park, 4 km inland from the coastal birding areas at Nanhui.

Bluethroat, scarce winter visitor to Shanghai.
Bluethroat, scarce winter visitor to Shanghai, 27 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Hensgha also gave us Common Merganser, late Intermediate Egret, 2 Hair-crested Drongo, and 1 of our 2 Chinese Grey Shrike (the other was at Nanhui). Chongming yielded 3 Common Crane with the Hooded Crane as well as Northern Lapwing, 3 juv. Rook, and 35 Lapland Longspur.

Binjiang Forest Park added to our list Great Spotted Woodpecker, a species that in Shanghai’s parks is reliable only at Binjiang and Century Park. We had 3 Hawfinch, Collared Finchbill, and 3 Naumann’s Thrush.

NOTES

— In recent days at its special site (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, Yellow-breasted Bunting was not found on two occasions. We found it there six times throughout most of November.

Yellow-throated Bunting and most other woodland birds were absent from the Cape Nanhui microforests. The leaves of the locust trees in the microforests have fallen, the undergrowth has died off, and the woodsy feel has faded even at large Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083). Eurasian Tree Sparrow have invaded some of the microforests. We found Pallas’s Reed Bunting in Microforest 4 but neither Red-flanked Bluetail nor White’s Thrush.

Comparison of adult-male Chinese Grosbeak (bottom L) and Japanese Grosbeak (all others). Craig Brelsford.
Comparison of adult-male Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria (bottom L) and adult-male Japanese Grosbeak E. personata (all others). The half-hood and completely yellow beak of male Japanese are easily recognizable features and contrast with the full hood and black-tipped bill of Chinese. The wing of Chinese (bottom L) shows a larger white patch on the primaries as well as white tips. Secondaries and tertials are fringed white. Japanese (middle L) shows only a simple white patch on otherwise blue-black primaries. Thrush-sized Japanese is also 20 percent larger than Chinese. Chinese Grosbeak is present year-round in Shanghai and even breeds in inner-city parks. Japanese Grosbeak is an uncommon passage migrant. Bottom L: Wusong Paotaiwan Park, Shanghai, 19 Sept. 2009. Others Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Japanese Grosbeak found in Magic Parking Lot 28 Nov. provided my longest and best view ever of the species. I appreciated its large size, like a thrush; I noted its half-hood and completely yellow bill; and I observed its single white spot on the primaries.

MORE PHOTOS

Photo by Mr. Wang.
On 24 Nov. 2016, I was standing beside Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣) when he got this shot of an adult-male Eyebrowed Thrush. The thrush was drinking from a cavity high in a tree at Zhongshan Park. In recent days, seven species of thrush have been recorded around the Little Central Pond in the 102-year-old park.
Views of Buff-bellied Pipit in flight. Top 2: 12 Nov. 2016. Bottom 3: 27 Nov. 2016. All taken near the reed beds north of Luchao. Craig Brelsford.
Buff-bellied Pipit in flight. Top 2: 12 Nov. 2016. Bottom 3: 27 Nov. 2016. All taken at Marshy Agricultural Land north of Luchao (30.850707, 121.863662). (Craig Brelsford)
Eurasian Hoopoe, sea wall at Cape Nanhui, 27 Nov. 2016. Also seen nearby the following day. Craig Brelsford.
Eurasian Hoopoe, sea wall at Cape Nanhui, 27 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Eastern Marsh Harrier, Hengsha. Craig Brelsford.
Eastern Marsh Harrier, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Panorama of Little Central Pond, Zhongshan Park, 1 Dec. 2016. Thrushes are drawn to the berry-laden trees on either side of the pond. The photographer to the left is Wāng Jīnlóng (汪金龙), a mainstay at Zhongshan Park and a source of information about the birds there. Craig Brelsford.
Panorama of Little Central Pond, Zhongshan Park, 1 Dec. 2016. Thrushes are drawn to the berry-laden trees on either side of the pond. Currently, seven species of thrush may be found there: the four listed below plus three missed by us on 1 Dec. (White’s Thrush, Dusky Thrush, and Japanese Thrush). The photographer to the left is Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), a mainstay at Zhongshan Park and a reliable source of information about the birds there. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Siberian Crane at the newly reclaimed extension of Hengsha Island, 29 Nov. 2016. The cranes have been at this spot (31.321708, 122.018141) since at least 12 Nov. 2016. It is not known exactly what drew the cranes to Hengsha. Disturbances at Lake Poyang, the wintering location of nearly every member of the species, may be a factor. Since 2000 Leucogeranus leucogeranus has been listed as Critically Endangered. Only about 3750 individuals remain. (Craig Brelsford)

The Case for Conserving Cape Nanhui

Editor’s note: This tranquil scene is from Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), home of Reed Parrotbill and dozens of other species, and part of the large reed beds on the Dazhi River at Cape Nanhui. In the face of manic development, and in spite of being under no protection, Cape Nanhui conserves the best reed beds on the Shanghai Peninsula as well as mudflats critical to tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds. To save these treasures, Shanghai people must act now.

Who will save Cape Nanhui? Not foreigners like me, but the people of Shanghai. We foreigners are numerous in Shanghai and are disproportionately represented among the birders here. We can offer valuable perspectives. But if the people of Shanghai themselves do not wish to ensure a bright natural future for Cape Nanhui, then there is little that anyone can do.

I think that the people of Shanghai are ready for real conservation on the Shanghai mainland. Basic conservationist ideas have broad appeal, and an easily accessible, world-class, “people’s wetland reserve” at Cape Nanhui is a basic conservationist idea.

If I were Chinese and were arguing for a people’s wetland reserve for Cape Nanhui, then I would bring to light the following points.

SHANGHAI IS NOT A CITY IN THE CONVENTIONAL SENSE

The largest component of the city-province of Shanghai is the Shanghai Peninsula, a projection of land between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the peninsula, is a critically important stop for migrating birds, and is completely unprotected. A nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a third ‘stepping stone’ for birds crossing the Yangtze Delta, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha. Photo by NASA, customized by Craig Brelsford.
The largest component of the city-province of Shanghai is the Shanghai Peninsula, a projection of land between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the peninsula, is a critically important stop for migrating birds, and is completely unprotected. A nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a third ‘stepping stone’ for birds crossing the mouth of the Yangtze, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha. (NASA/Craig Brelsford)

Shanghai “市” isn’t really a city or a “municipality,” as 市 is often translated. It is a city-province, accountable to no government but the national government. The city-province is vast, covering an area greater than the U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island. Shanghai is twice as big as Luxembourg, half as large as Northern Ireland, and a third the size of Wales.

From a conservationist’s perspective, it is important to view Shanghai as a province and not a city, because cities are not usually thought of as being responsible for maintaining large nature reserves within their borders. Provinces, by contrast, are large enough to accommodate nature reserves.

I propose that, where workable, we stop referring to Shanghai as a city or municipality and start applying to it the more accurate label of city-province.

SHANGHAI OCCUPIES LAND UNUSUALLY IMPORTANT TO CONSERVATION

Reed Parrotbill. Far left: Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, May 2010. Upper middle: Yangkou, October 2010. Bottom middle and far right: Nanhui, Shanghai, May 2016.
Reed Parrotbill is a a symbol of Shanghai and candidate for Shanghai Provincial Bird. Nowhere do the people of Shanghai have a better chance of seeing this Near Threatened species than in the reed beds at Cape Nanhui. Protection of the reed beds at Cape Nanhui would send a message to the world that Shanghai takes conservation seriously. (Craig Brelsford)

Any jurisdiction covering an area the size of a small country would be expected to conserve substantial amounts of its area. In the case of Shanghai, the call to conserve is even louder, because the area it occupies is unusually important for conservation. The Shanghai Peninsula is situated between the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and Hangzhou Bay. It is on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and attracts tens of thousands of passage migrants representing a few hundred species.

Cape Nanhui is the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula and attracts passage migrants and winter visitors such as the Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Its large reed beds are the final stronghold on the Shanghai Peninsula of Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill, a candidate for Shanghai Provincial Bird, as well as Near Threatened Marsh Grassbird.

An abandoned sign about Ruddy Turnstone has been turned into a wall by a fisherman for his shack in the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui. 9 Nov. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
An abandoned sign about Ruddy Turnstone has been turned into a wall by a fisherman for his shack in the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

Cape Nanhui is completely unprotected; indeed, an attempt at a small wetland reserve has been shut down. The boardwalks and signs of the defunct reserve are crumbling, and the backhoes are standing by, waiting for the green light to smash what remains.

SHANGHAI, AN ENVIRONMENTAL UNDER-PERFORMER

No one is saying that Shanghai, a city-province of 26 million people, needs to create a Yellowstone. Any reasonable person understands the pressures the huge population of Shanghai puts on its natural resources.

Also, it must be pointed out that in the far-flung areas of the city-province, Shanghai has made an attempt at conservation. Chongming Dongtan preserves the eastern nub of Chongming Island, and Jiuduansha covers intertidal shoals near Pudong Airport.

Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Nanhui, Shanghai, 10 April 2016.
Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Cape Nanhui, 10 April 2016. The reed bed over which this grassbird was displaying is the largest at Cape Nanhui. It measures 1.4 sq. km and has its center at 30.876060, 121.945305. This reed bed is one of the last places on the Shanghai Peninsula where the song flight of Marsh Grassbird can be seen. (Craig Brelsford)

But Shanghai under-performs overall. Nowhere is the poor conservation performance more evident than in Pudong, the coastal city-within-a-city. Pudong is nearly double the size of Singapore and is half the size of Hong Kong. Yet the district contains zero wetland reserves on its mainland. Both Singapore and Hong Kong manage to hold in reserve significant portions of their territory.

The southeastern tip of Pudong is Cape Nanhui, a place that despite being under no protection still brims with natural treasures. No place on the Shanghai Peninsula has as many reed beds. The projection of land attracts birds making the long journey across Hangzhou Bay and the wide mouth of the Yangtze.

Moreover, Cape Nanhui is easily accessible to common people. It would be the perfect place for a world-class wetland reserve on the model of Sungei Buloh in Singapore and Yeyahu National Wetland Park in Beijing.

MORE INFORMATION

Craig talks to Pudong TV about the opportunities for conservation at Nanhui. Photo by Elaine Du.
On 12 Nov. 2016 I was interviewed by Pudong TV about the opportunities for conservation at Nanhui. (Elaine Du)

On shanghaibirding.com I have addressed the issue of conserving Nanhui:

Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve! (cri de coeur plus call to action)
Remnants (preparation for probable demise of Cape Nanhui)
Reed Parrotbill, Symbol of Shanghai (naming Reed Parrotbill Provincial Bird of Shanghai will send a message about the importance of the reed beds such as those at Cape Nanhui)
Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Nanhui (proof of yet another endangered species using the defunct wetland reserve at Nanhui)
Will the Spoon Survive? (Nanhui is not the only area under threat. You ought to see the mess at Yangkou, Jiangsu. Conserving Nanhui will offset the losses elsewhere on the Chinese coast and will put a conservationist feather in Shanghai’s cap)
Meet Kai Pflug, Nanhui’s Mr. Clean (tribute to a birder doing his small part)

NEXT STEPS

We foreigners have had much to say about the future of Nanhui. I would like to hear more from Chinese. Is the case for a world-class wetland reserve at Nanhui convincing to you? If so, then what do you propose to do to bring it about?