I spent about 50 days at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui in 2017—sometimes with friends, but mostly on my own. Here are some of my favorite photos from Nanhui 2017.
Coming back from a trip to Australia, where I saw many interesting birds, I was afraid I was going to be disappointed by Nanhui. I was, however, far from disappointed by this Short-eared Owl (January).
In April, Craig and I took a trip to Nanhui. I think we more or less both took the same photo of this Common Kingfisher and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
This Blue-and-white Flycatcher has just had a good moment. This photographer has just had a good moment (April).
A Common Sandpiper was inspecting his fishing nets (April).
In May, I was already on my way back home from a somewhat disappointing day at Nanhui when Craig called. “Orange-headed Trush at the parking lot!” Of course, I turned back. It was worth it.
I like the way this male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher seems to rest his long tail on the tree. Probably no females around to impress at this point, I guess (May).
Personally, I think of this photo as having the subtitle “The joys of parenthood.” Congratulations, Craig—with only one son, it should be a bit more relaxed than for this Long-tailed Shrike (May).
Going to Nanhui in July is a somewhat lonely experience, as the heat deters most birders. Still, seeing a Eurasian Bittern sort of kneeling on a farm road can make it worth it.
This still fluffy young Yellow Bittern came so close to the place where I was hiding that eventually I could not capture it with my long lens any more. Hope it has learnt a bit more and survived (August).
For a few months in 2017, a place with the nicely descriptive name “Trash Canal” was a good place to bird. This Striated Heron makes full use of the location’s characteristics (September).
On the ground, the Eurasian Wryneck is very easy to overlook (September).
While 2017 did not have a Fairy Pitta quite as compliant as the one at Nanhui in the autumn of 2016, there were still a few of them around. Always makes a birding day worthwhile (September).
The autumn of 2017 was also very good for seeing owls such as this Oriental Scops Owl. Hard to ever get tired of owls (September).
Another “seen together with Craig” bird, this Common Redpoll (October).
The idea of a sand bath always seemed a bit strange to me. But obviously it is not a strange idea to this Eurasian Hoopoe (November).
The Japanese Robin was maybe my most-anticipated bird of the year, as I had missed it the year before, despite waiting for it for quite some time. Of course, this is the kind of delayed gratification which makes a bird extra-special (November).
Note: Some of these photos—and many more—will soon be published in the book Birds of Nanhui, Shanghai, ISBN 978-7-202-12615-8. I hope that it will be available at every bookstore in China. If not, you can get it from me directly. Contact me at email@example.com.
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As summer melts into fall, Pudong’s Cape Nanhui continues to prove to be one of the best birding locations in China. In the period 26 Aug. to 8 Sept. 2017, I birded four days at the most southeasterly point of Shanghai, as well as at other key locations in Earth’s Greatest City. I noted 106 species.
After nearly 10 years in Shanghai and countless visits to Cape Nanhui, I still occasionally score life birds there, a testament to the richness of the hot spot. Such was the case 4 Sept. with Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher. The bird, an adult, was in Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635).
Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher is a very scarce vagrant to Shanghai. Cyornis brunneatus breeds in southeast China and spends the winter in peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. It is uncommon even in its core range and virtually unknown in the Shanghai region outside Cape Nanhui; the place closest to Shanghai where I have heard of it occurring is Emeifeng, 635 km southwest of Shanghai in Fujian.
The IUCN lists the species as Vulnerable because of the loss of mature primary lowland forest throughout its range.
Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher T. atrocaudata
3 Amur found 27 Aug. at Binhai Forest Park, the heavily wooded green space near Cape Nanhui, 4.5 km inland from the East China Sea. A stunning white-morph male and rufous-morph were continuously together, and we found a single rufous-morph in another part of the park. The white-morph as well as the rufous-morph accompanying it were calling. I have seen dozens of paradise flycatchers in Shanghai over the years and heard only one call (a Japanese for 1 or 2 seconds). Why were the Amur at Binhai Forest Park calling?
Binhai Forest Park is visited little and birded even less; could this quiet, thickly wooded park hold breeding Amur Paradise Flycatcher? As the white-morph male looks like something out of a fairy tale and is a bird even a non-birder would recognize, I asked park employees whether they had seen it. All said no.
The white-morph Amur that U.S. birder Tom Hurley and I saw was only the second I had ever beheld and a first for me in Shanghai. At Dongzhai National Nature Reserve, Henan, on 5 June 2010, I photographed the white-morph shown right. The Binhai white-morph lacked the long tail feathers of the bird I saw at Dongzhai but was still an unforgettable sight.
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher is the more common of the two paradise flycatchers in Shanghai. The photo above shows the differences in upperpart coloration between rufous-morph Amur Paradise Flycatcher and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher.
Fairy PittaPitta nympha
On 4 Sept. at Nanhui, my wife, Elaine Du, and I sneaked away from the action in Nanhui’s Microforest 1, where the photographers were set up. Microforest 4 was devoid of humans and peaceful. I tiptoed in. I scanned the undergrowth before me and, to my surprise, found a Fairy Pitta.
The pitta was standing on the ground, almost completely blanketed by a tangle of leaves, branches, and vines. Its big black eye was fixed on me. It didn’t move. I looked at the pitta, the pitta at me.
We stared at each other for 10 minutes.
Thus roosts the pitta during migration. It parks itself in thickets and waits. It bides its time, conserves its energy. Somewhere south of Shanghai, it will veer off the coast and fly non-stop across the South China Sea to Borneo, where it will spend the winter.
The pittas are mainly tropical species. Most are short-distance migrants. Not Fairy Pitta. No pitta invades the temperate world as deeply as Fairy Pitta; none makes so audacious an incursion into the north. None makes so long and daring a migration across hundreds of miles of sea.
My pitta was saving up its energy for its life-or-death run across the sea. Good luck, you explorer, you risk-taker! Good luck, Fairy Pitta.
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis
Viewed with Elaine at dusk 3 Sept. then viewed again the next morning at dawn. For weeks, the painted-snipes have been found at a single spot (30.939534, 121.955370) in a trash-strewn canal. Earlier, when news of the painted-snipe at Cape Nanhui first broke, I wrote a post in which I regretted sharing the location where were found the painted-snipes, a rare species in Shanghai. As things stand now, I can breathe easier; the many photographers who have visited the location have had no ill effect. The birds I found 4 Sept. were aware of me but behaved normally. They fed, drank, and preened. I used my car as a blind and never got out. The painted-snipes at Nanhui tolerate photographers confined to their cars.
Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus
27 Aug., South Pond. Juvenile. Videoed by me using my iPhone 6, adapter by the U.S. company PhoneSkope, and my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope:
Chinese EgretEgretta eulophotes
Below, video of Chinese Egret 26 Aug. at Cape Nanhui showing differences between Chinese Egret and Little Egret.
Yellow BitternIxobrychus sinensis
Photographed by me in gorgeous morning light 4 Sept. at Cape Nanhui.
Black BitternIxobrychus flavicollis
Uncommon in Shanghai. Found 26 Aug. at Cape Nanhui.
Striated HeronButorides striata
Uncommon in Shanghai. Found 27 Aug. at Binhai Forest Park.
Adult plus another goshawk calling unseen at inner-city Zhongshan Park on 8 Sept.
I videoed the goshawks:
Pacific Golden PloverPluvialis fulva Grey-headed LapwingVanellus cinereus
27 Aug. at sod farm south of Pudong Airport.
Great KnotCalidris tenuirostris
In high-tide roost 4 Sept. on South Beach (30.860673, 121.925113), just north of Donghai Bridge at Cape Nanhui.
Curlew SandpiperC. ferruginea
South Pond, Cape Nanhui, 26 Aug. Video:
Pin-tailed SnipeGallinago stenura
Party of 3 on 26 Aug. at Cape Nanhui. When flushed, made loud, raspy, memorable call. I quickly compared the call I had just heard to calls of Pin-tailed Snipe downloaded from xeno-canto.org to my iPhone. The match was perfect. Lookalike Swinhoe’s Snipe rarely calls when flushed. Dark underwing clear in my many photographs of the trio. Flew high when flushed, then returned to land at point only 50 m from where originally flushed.
Gull-billed TernGelochelidon nilotica
The canals on the inland side of the sea wall were resounding with the characteristic yaps of this passage migrant. A clear photo is especially useful for discerning the thick bill.
Riparia riparia is an uncommon passage migrant in Shanghai. Note the well-defined breast band on my bird, distinguishing it from Pale Martin Riparia diluta, which has an ill-defined breast band.
Siberian Blue RobinLarvivora cyane
It’s worth stressing how good is our opportunity here in Shanghai to view Siberian Blue Robin for a few short weeks each spring and fall. On the breeding grounds up in northern China, the males sing loudly and beautifully but are very hard to see; no Siberian Blue Robin I experienced on the breeding grounds ever sang from anything like an exposed perch. The few I was able to see in Elaine’s hometown of Boli, Heilongjiang sang on or near the ground. Females are almost impossible to see; in fact, I saw not one in Heilongjiang in May-June 2016. Siberian Blue Robin are also apparently hard to see on their wintering grounds in south China and Southeast Asia. Places such as Cape Nanhui are probably among the best places in the world to view this common but shy species. We Shanghai birders have yet another reason to count ourselves lucky.
Also noted by me in Shanghai 27 Aug.-8 Sept. 2017:
Garganey Spatula querquedula Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Grey HeronArdea cinerea Purple HeronA. purpurea Great EgretA. alba Intermediate EgretA. intermedia Little EgretEgretta garzetta Eastern Cattle EgretBubulcus coromandus Black-crowned Night HeronNycticorax nycticorax Chinese Pond HeronArdeola bacchus Common MoorhenGallinula chloropus Eurasian CootFulica atra Black-winged StiltHimantopus himantopus Pied AvocetRecurvirostra avosetta Kentish PloverCharadrius alexandrinus Lesser Sand PloverC. mongolus Greater Sand PloverC. leschenaultii Little Ringed PloverC. dubius WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus Far Eastern CurlewN. madagascariensis Eurasian CurlewN. arquata Black-tailed GodwitLimosa limosa Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpres Red KnotCalidris canutus Broad-billed SandpiperC. falcinellus Sharp-tailed SandpiperC. acuminata Long-toed StintC. subminuta Red-necked StintC. ruficollis SanderlingC. alba DunlinC. alpina Common SnipeGallinago gallinago Red-necked PhalaropePhalaropus lobatus Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos Grey-tailed TattlerTringa brevipes Spotted RedshankT. erythropus Common GreenshankT. nebularia Marsh SandpiperT. stagnatilis Wood SandpiperT. glareola Common RedshankT. totanus Oriental PratincoleGlareola maldivarum Black-tailed GullLarus crassirostris White-winged TernChlidonias leucopterus Whiskered TernC. hybrida Common TernSterna hirundo Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia Red Turtle DoveStreptopelia tranquebarica Spotted DoveS. chinensis Himalayan SwiftletAerodramus brevirostris Lesser CoucalCentropus bengalensis Oriental DollarbirdEurystomus orientalis Eurasian WryneckJynx torquilla Common KingfisherAlcedo atthis Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus Black-winged CuckooshrikeCoracina melaschistos Tiger ShrikeLanius tigrinus Brown ShrikeL. cristatus Long-tailed ShrikeL. schach Black-naped OrioleOriolus chinensis Japanese TitParus minor Black-throated BushtitAegithalos concinnus Japanese White-eyeZosterops japonicus Barn SwallowHirundo rustica Light-vented BulbulPycnonotus sinensis Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas Eastern Crowned WarblerP. coronatus Oriental Reed WarblerAcrocephalus orientalis Thick-billed WarblerIduna aedon Zitting CisticolaCisticola juncidis Plain PriniaPrinia inornata Reed ParrotbillParadoxornis heudei Vinous-throated ParrotbillSinosuthora webbiana Javan MynaAcridotheres javanicus Crested MynaA. cristatellus Chinese BlackbirdTurdus mandarinus Grey-streaked FlycatcherMuscicapa griseisticta Asian Brown FlycatcherM. dauurica Oriental Magpie-RobinCopsychus saularis Blue-and-white FlycatcherCyanoptila cyanomelana Yellow-rumped FlycatcherFicedula zanthopygia Chinese GrosbeakEophona migratoria Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanus Eastern Yellow WagtailMotacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis White WagtailM. alba
Featured image: All-star birds of late summer 2017 at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui: Clockwise from top left, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Fairy Pitta, Greater Painted-snipe, and Great Knot. The Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Greater Painted-snipe were photographed 4 Sept. 2017 at Cape Nanhui. Fairy Pitta photographed 5 June 2010 in Dongzhai, Henan, and Great Knot photographed 11 Sept. 2014 at Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu. (Craig Brelsford)
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Let’s hear it for Kai Pflug! The Shanghai-based German birder has taken it upon himself to clean up Cape Nanhui, Shanghai’s best-known birding area. On Sun. 11 Sept. 2016, Kai hauled out two bagfuls of trash from Nanhui’s Microforest 2 (30.926138, 121.970795), and I’m proud to say my wife Elaine Du helped Kai out on Microforest 1. Kai has long been cleaning the microforests, and his work has had a big effect on those precious migrant traps.
In his car, Kai keeps six pairs of tongs as well as a roll of plastic bags. Kai told me he uses tongs “to show others that it’s possible to clean up trash without getting your hands dirty!” He keeps six pairs so that others can join him in his quest to keep the microforests clean.
As if his work on the trash weren’t enough, Kai further burnished his eco-credentials Sunday morning at Microforest 2. There, about 30 photographers have set up camp to photograph Fairy Pitta, a species that has been present in the tiny wood since early September. Someone had speared mealworms onto a metal hook. The hook could rip the mouth of a hungry pitta. Kai spied the hook, marched into the setup, and tore it down. In his good Chinese, the product of 12 years living in this country, Kai explained to the surprised photographers, “This isn’t good! It can kill birds.”
Kai’s actions Sunday were the backdrop to an eventful birding day. Partnering yet again with veteran British birder Michael Grunwell, Elaine and I noted 75 species. We birded the well-known coastal sites at Nanhui as well as the sod farm south of Pudong Airport. We had our first migrant bunting of the season, endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting; Himalayan Swiftlet in the skies above the Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782); and Pechora Pipit in the wet agricultural land north of Lúcháo (芦潮; 30.851111, 121.848528).
Other goodies were Lesser Coucal catching a frog, Asian Stubtail joining Fairy Pitta at the photography setup, and season’s first Yellow-browed Warbler, Siberian Thrush, and Blue-and-white Flycatcher. We had Green Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, and a migrating flock of Red Turtle Dove near the Pechoras and Eurasian Wryneck in the recently planted trees on the inner base of the sea wall. The microforests yielded a second Fairy Pitta, 8 Black-naped Oriole, 7 Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, and a good count of 12 Siberian Blue Robin.
Our trip to the sod farm was cut short by rain. Before the shower we noted ca. 800 Oriental Pratincole. Obviously this grassy area is important to the species, which breeds in the Shanghai region and which with the development of Pudong has seen a dramatic shrinkage of its territory.
On Mon. 5 Sept. Elaine and I did our first urban birding of the season at Shanghai’s Century Park. Among the 24 species we noted were passage migrants Oriental Dollarbird, Asian Brown Flycatcher, and Grey-streaked Flycatcher.
Featured image: Kai Pflug picks up litter at Microforest 1, Cape Nanhui, 11 Sept. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
The autumn migration season here in Shanghai has kicked off in style. Leading the parade of migrants is Fairy Pitta, seen in Microforest 2 at Cape Nanhui on Sat. 3 Sept. 2016 and still there as of Sunday afternoon. Another notable sighting on Saturday was Common Ringed Plover at the sod farm south of Pudong International Airport.
Partnering yet again with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du and I were out Sat. 27 Aug. and again the following Saturday, 3 Sept. On both days we found Asian Dowitcher and endangered Great Knot. On 3 Sept. a group of 135 Great Knot and 3 Asian Dowitcher were part of a wader roost of ca. 400 individuals in the canal between microforests 1 and 2. The roost also contained a single endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, 30 Red Knot, and 3 Curlew Sandpiper. On the mudflats nearby, we had a flyby of 3 endangered Far Eastern Curlew. On 27 Aug. a smaller roost at the same location had some of the species noted above as well as Grey-tailed Tattler. 27 Aug. also yielded a single Red-necked Phalarope.
Other highlights from 3 Sept.:
26 Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe at sod farm near Pudong Airport
ca. 200 near-threatened Black-tailed Godwit in that wader roost at Nanhui
516 Eastern Yellow Wagtail, most of this impressive number from Pudong Airport sod farm and the Nanhui sod farm on Ganlan Road (30.890865, 121.902011)
— On Sat. 27 Aug. we added to our trio special guest Mikkel Thorup, a mathematician from Denmark. This was not Mikkel’s first birding trip in China, but he is still fresh enough that he was picking off lifers left and right. Later, we were joined by the international high-school birding team of Komatsu Yasuhiko (Japan), Larry Chen (Canada), and Chi Shu (Shanghai).
— The decline of Lesser Yangshan as a birding spot is accelerating. Garbage Dump Coastal Plain has been lost to birding, with earth-moving machines all around and new buildings going up. Garbage Dump Gully is intact, but the increased activity on the coastal plain means that security, already tight now, may be even tighter in the future, and it may soon prove impossible to reach the gully. A migrant trap par excellence, Garbage Dump Gully is crucial to Shanghai birders. Over the years the gully has given birders Japanese Robin, Verditer Flycatcher, Varied Tit, White-bellied Green Pigeon, and scores of other good records. Garbage Dump Gully must be preserved; access to it must be sustained.
— On 27 Aug. we found a banded Black-tailed Godwit. As is my habit, I filled out and submitted the Leg Flag Report Form on the Web site of the Australasian Wader Studies Group. Our godwit, it turns out, received its bands on 19 June 2016 on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia (at 57.08, 156.64), 4000 km from Shanghai. UPDATE: On 9 Sept. 2016 a godwit with the E7 band was found by Chinese photographer kaca at virtually the same location as the 27 Aug. sighting.
— The task of ID-ing the Nordmann’s was clear-cut and was helped along by a Common Greenshank that appeared next to the Nordmann’s. The head of the Nordmann’s was proportionally larger than that of the Common, and it had a higher knee with shorter legs—an obviously stockier bird, a rugby player compared to a ballerina. The Nordmann’s stretched out its wing, revealing clean white plumage underneath. Common has a greyer underwing.
Featured image: Fairy PittaPitta nympha, Microforest 2, Cape Nanhui, Sun. 4 Sept. 2016. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko using Nikon D7100 + Tamron 150-600 F/5.6, F/6, 1/100, ISO 640.
Yangkou-Dongtai today, Elaine and I with Ian Davies from eBird/Cornell and his buddies Nick Bonomo and Luke Seitz. Rain non-stop all day, extremely difficult conditions, missed Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper but covered most other major waders, among them Great Knot, Red Knot, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Eurasian Oystercatcher. We had a fun encounter with Grey Nightjar roosting on road in forested part of Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf birding loop. Lifers were piling up for our three young American partners, all on their first trip to China.
Yangkou is still good for waders but continues to lose its appeal. Haiyin Temple Forest has been turned into a menagerie, with the obligatory captive Black Swan as well as Blue Eared Pheasant and—get this—a pair of ostriches! The trees remain but the undergrowth has been pared back, limiting the attraction of the migrant trap to thrushes, robins, and bush warblers. Entrance to the menagerie requires payment, but we got around it by saying we were birders. Entrance to the entire temple-seawall area requires ticket costing 60 yuan per person. The entire sea wall around Yangkou is now fenced off and access to mudflats is in some places denied, notably at the well-known point ca. 10 km south of town where we have seen Spoon-billed Sandpiper so many times. Dongtai meanwhile continues its own transformation, particularly in the southern parts of the reclaimed area.
Yangkou again today with Elaine and American birders Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, and Luke Seitz. Spoon-billed Sandpiper photographed in flight by Ian after our 4-man group split up on mudflats to cover more ground. Despite relentless search could not find it again. While searching we saw thousands of Red-necked Stint and hundreds of other waders and got soaked in the misty rain. At long-disused Magic Forest we found 33 species in 79 minutes, with Northern Boobook, Lesser Cuckoo, Tiger Shrike, Narcissus Flycatcher, and Forest Wagtail leading the way. The Magic Forest has been locked since 2013, but a guard let us use the area today. It was wonderful to bird the old place again. Our partners were wide-eyed at the richness of the Magic Forest and impressed by the mudflats. Ian trained Elaine and me on the eBird reporting system.
Yangkou and Nanhui today, Elaine, U.S. birders Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, and Luke Seitz, and I (Yangkou), then Elaine and I (Nanhui).
At Yangkou mostly around Magic Forest north of Haiyin Temple. Ruddy Kingfisher, Purple Heron, Lesser Cuckoo 2, Asian Koel, Lesser Coucal 3, Arctic Warbler 3 singing, Chestnut-flanked White-eye. Ruddy Kingfisher seen by Ian and Elaine (life bird for both), tragically missed by me! (My view in Nanhui in Oct. 2013 remains my sole sighting of Ruddy King.) Temple Wood still productive (Eyebrowed Thrush, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher).
After dropping off Ian, Nick, and Luke at Pudong Airport, Elaine and I continued on to Nanhui. Black-capped Kingfisher, Japanese Para Fly 5, Thick-billed Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Richard’s Pipit.
Elaine and I again covered Nanhui, the coastal birding site in southeast Pudong, Shanghai. Highlights: Eurasian Bittern 1 booming, Yellow Bittern 6, Common Tern 1 minussensis, Common Cuckoo 18 + 8 Cuculus sp. that were probably all Common, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Black Drongo 28, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher 2 (1 calling), Arctic Warbler 3 singing, Arctic-type Warbler 30 (vast majority likely Arctic), Thick-billed Warbler 2 (1 singing), Narcissus Flycatcher 1 male, Richard’s Pipit.
— I had never heard Thick-billed sing before. This forest Acro was hidden in the crown of one of the locust trees in Microforest 1. The sound I recorded is below. The wind was blowing, lowering the quality of the recording, but the essentials are there. Note the typical raspy Acro sound, and note the much faster delivery of Thick-billed than that of its fellow Acro Oriental Reed Warbler:
Thick-billed Warbler, Shanghai, 24 May 2016 (01:53, 5.3 MB)
— The cuckoos were in full breeding mode, chasing each other and calling constantly.
— Elaine and I spent the better part of an hour walking along the muddy bank of a canal looking for Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler. On 21 May 2015 at Nanhui, Kai Pflug, Elaine, and I found this species. Was that encounter a one-off, or is Middendorf’s Gropper a bird that would be recorded more in Shanghai were more birders looking for it? I still don’t have an answer to that question.
Featured image: L-R, American birders Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, Luke Seitz, Craig Brelsford, Magic Forest, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 22 May 2016. (Elaine Du)
On my recent trip to Guangxi, I rediscovered the joy of low-light photography.
Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and I were at a blind. Well past sunset, long after the other photographers had left, we were still there. First the thrushes retired, then the White-tailed Robin.
Suddenly, Lesser Shortwing popped out.
Through the gloom we could just make out the form of a small bird. So dark was it by now that I could ID the bird only by the photos I was taking of it.
The shortwing helped itself to a few mealworms and took a bath. It had no competition. Its strategy was to wait out the bigger birds and use its tolerance for very low light as an advantage. We got sustained views and photos of a rarely seen bird.
The shortwing was the capstone on another successful project in low-light bird photography. Ever since a magical morning in June 2010, when I photographed Fairy Pitta in the pre-dawn light at Dongzhai, Henan, I have been drawn to photographing forest birds in low light.
My current setup is well-suited to this task. I place my Nikon D3S and Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens atop my Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon-fiber tripod. The D3S is now a 6-year-old model; though superseded by newer models such as the D4S, the D3S remains one of the best low-light cameras ever made, easily creating usable photos at ISO 10000.
I put the D3S in mirror-up mode. I tighten the head to the firmest position and slowly follow the movement of the shortwing with my left hand, which holds the wand attached to the head. When the shortwing stops, I release my hand from the wand; because the head is tight and hard to move, the camera always rests in the position to which I guide it.
I press the button on my shutter-release cable, held in my right hand. The first press opens the mirror; I wait a second, then press the button again, opening the shutter and exposing the image.
Low light is not bad light. With patience, skill, and the right equipment, one can achieve lovely images of birds in near-darkness.
Featured image: Lesser ShortwingBrachypteryx leucophris just after its bath at photo blind in Longheng, Guangxi, China, 20 Dec. 2015. F/4, 1/8, ISO 10000. (Craig Brelsford)