Late Summer Shanghai

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

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., 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.

Highlights were Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher at Microforest 1, beautiful white-morph Amur Paradise Flycatcher at Binhai Forest Park, Fairy Pitta in the Cape Nanhui microforests, Greater Painted-snipe holding on in a canal near the coast, Asian Dowitcher at South Pond, Chinese Egret at North Pond and on South Beach, and Pacific Golden Plover at the sod farm south of Pudong Airport. Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler were calling in the Magic Parking Lot, and endangered Far Eastern Curlew and Great Knot were recorded at Nanhui. Crested Goshawk appeared in inner-city Zhongshan Park.

Here are some of the best birds:

Amur Paradise Flycatcher
Terpsiphone incei

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher
T. atrocaudata

Amur Paradise Flycatcher
Amur, Dongzhai, 2010. (C. Brelsford)

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.

Amur (top) and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher
Dorsal views of Amur (top) and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. ​If the mantle, back, and tail have a purplish-brown hue, then you are likely looking at Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, known helpfully in Chinese as ‘Purple Paradise Flycatcher.’ If the upperparts are cinnamon-brown, then it is likely Amur. White-morph males are never Japanese, as the white morph does not occur in that species. 26-27 Aug., Cape Nanhui. For more on Amur-Japanese ID, see my post ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers. (Craig Brelsford)

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 Pitta Pitta nympha

Fairy Pitta
Fairy Pitta, Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, 4 Sept. The first week of September seems to be peak season for these passage migrants in Shanghai. The pitta shown here is a juvenile, discernible as such by the pinkish tip to its bill. The IUCN lists Fairy Pitta as Vulnerable. (Craig Brelsford)

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

Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis, Cape Nanhui, 4 Sept. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Nikon D3S, 600 mm f/4, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 1000, hand-held (steadied on door of car). (Craig Brelsford)

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.

Greater Painted-snipe
1/400, f/5.6, ISO 6400. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/250, f/10, ISO 1000. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/500, f/7.1, ISO 1000. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/400, f/5.6, ISO 6400. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/250, f/5.6, ISO 6400. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/320, f/10, ISO 1000. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/200, f/5.6, ISO 6400. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/200, f/5.6, ISO 6400. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Painted-snipe
1/250, f/9, ISO 1000. (Craig Brelsford)

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 Egret Egretta eulophotes

Below, video of Chinese Egret 26 Aug. at Cape Nanhui showing differences between Chinese Egret and Little Egret.

Other highlights:

Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis

Photographed by me in gorgeous morning light 4 Sept. at Cape Nanhui.

Yellow Bittern
Yellow Bittern, Cape Nanhui, 4 Sept. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis

Uncommon in Shanghai. Found 26 Aug. at Cape Nanhui.

Striated Heron Butorides striata

Uncommon in Shanghai. Found 27 Aug. at Binhai Forest Park.

Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus

Adult plus another goshawk calling unseen at inner-city Zhongshan Park on 8 Sept.

I videoed the goshawks:

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus

27 Aug. at sod farm south of Pudong Airport.

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

In high-tide roost 4 Sept. on South Beach (30.860673, 121.925113), just north of Donghai Bridge at Cape Nanhui.

Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea

South Pond, Cape Nanhui, 26 Aug. Video:

Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura

Pin-tailed Snipe
Pin-tailed Snipe, 3 Sept. 2017, Cape Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

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 Tern Gelochelidon nilotica

Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern, 4 Sept., Cape Nanhui. Note the thick bill. (Craig Brelsford)

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.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
Phylloscopus tenellipes

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler

P. borealoides

In the wake of my post of 31 Aug. 2017 about distinguishing Pale-legged from Sakhalin Leaf Warbler by call, I was hoping to find more members of this species pair. On 4 Sept. 2017 at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui, I was richly rewarded. For more, see my 10 Sept. 2017 post, “Pale-Sak Calls: An Addendum.”

Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Sand Martin
Sand Martin, Cape Nanhui, 4 Sept. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

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 Robin Larvivora 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.:

Garganey Spatula querquedula
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron A. purpurea
Great Egret A. alba
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis
Sanderling C. alba
Dunlin C. alpina
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus
Common Greenshank T. nebularia
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola
Common Redshank T. totanus
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
Spotted Dove S. chinensis
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus
Brown Shrike L. cristatus
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis
Japanese Tit Parus minor
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis
Thick-billed Warbler Arundinax aedon
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana
Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus
Crested Myna A. cristatellus
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba

Featured image: All-star birds of late summer at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui: Clockwise from top left, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Fairy Pitta, Greater Painted-snipe, and Great Knot. (Craig Brelsford)
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Review of Nikon P900S

Shanghai birders Kane Xu (L) and Michael Grunwell share a laugh after discovering that they both own the same model of camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900S. In this guest post, written exclusively for shanghaibirding.com, Kane tells us why he uses this versatile little imaging machine.

by Kane Xu (徐时开)
for shanghaibirding.com

I’m a birder, not a photographer. I’ve played around with compact digital cameras, DSLRs, and even, in my early years, SLR cameras with film. But I have no interest in the vast amount of DSLR bodies and lenses. What I need is a tool to record targets, especially birds I do not recognize.

My requirements are simple. First, my camera must be affordable; second, my camera must give me a realistic ability to shoot birds (in particular, it must have a long focal length); and third, my camera must be non-DSLR.

I have studied many brands, among them some types by Sony that are very compact in size and offer high magnification. But my experience with binoculars and field telescopes has taught me a fundamental physical rule: When you need high magnification, you must have a lens with a big diameter in order to allow more light to get through. Therefore, I finally gave up on those pocket digital cameras and bought the Nikon Coolpix P900S.

Let us look at the P900S as it relates to bird photography.

ADVANTAGES OF THE P900S

Birding mode. I love it! Most people set their camera to P, A, S, or even M mode when taking photos, ignoring the auto or preset modes. I always use birding mode.

Normally, when you power on your camera, the zooming position is at 24 mm (the widest view). In birding mode, you just press the OK button, and the camera automatically zooms to 800 mm.

With the automatic zoom to 800 mm, there is no need to hold the zooming trigger for seconds. And of course you can always continue zooming to the max value, 2000 mm, by turning the zooming trigger. Auto-zoom is a fast and convenient way to get your camera from power-on to ready-to-shoot.

Birding mode (Kane Xu)
In birding mode, a little grey square appears at the center of the display. This is where the P900S will frame the image once you press OK and the camera auto-zooms to 800 mm. Note also that the focusing mode is set by default to ‘center,’ as indicated by the white brackets ([ ]). (Kane Xu)
The shooting parameters (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) are set automatically. The goal of birding mode is to get you the photo no matter the light conditions. There is not much of a problem in bright light, but when it’s dark, even in P, S, A, or M mode, you would need to manually raise the ISO. In birding mode, by contrast, the P900S adjusts ISO automatically. All you need to do is take the shot.

Manual focusing. This is also a very important feature, especially for birders. There are situations in which your bird is in a bush with branches and leaves all around it. Your lens is desperate, always focusing on the leaf; your target jumps away before you take a shot. Under such circumstances, manual focus is a must. The P900S has a side trigger on the lens. See photo below.

(Kane Xu)
The default function of the side trigger (above) is zooming, but you can change it to focusing. When you hold your camera with both hands, you can zoom with the index finger of your right hand and do the manual focusing with the thumb of your left hand. (Kane Xu)

Sometimes manual focus makes the difference between a blown opportunity and a useful record shot. When Fairy Pitta, a notoriously shy species, appeared in Shanghai in September 2016, I was happy to get the record shot below. Without manual focusing, even this image would have been impossible.

Fairy Pitta
Fairy Pitta, Cape Nanhui, September, photographed using manual focus on the P900S. (Kane Xu)

VR. Nikon claims a vibration-reduction level of 5 for the P900S. The VR on this model is really good. To see how good, watch the video below, in which I hand-hold the camera:

Great video quality. Even in low light, the P900S delivers super video. Here’s a sample:

DISADVANTAGES OF THE P900S

Portability. The P900S is big—as large as a DSLR. It definitely takes up space in a bag.

No continuous shooting. Despite the big size (mainly big lens), birding mode, and manual focusing, at its core the P900S is still a compact digital camera. Among other things, that means you cannot do continuous shooting, as in a DSLR. (A DSLR is like a machine gun; the P900S is like a sniper rifle.)

The view finder is not optical. There is a mini-LCD screen in the view finder, and it shows the very same elements as the big LCD on the body. The non-optical view finder makes finding a bird difficult in thick vegetation.

There is a solution, however: an extra finder. The video above, “Goldcrest at GuCun park,” was made with the help of the extra finder.

(Kane Xu)
With the extra finder, there’s no problem finding the target anymore! (Kane Xu)

SUMMARY

Consider the following before you buy your own P900S:

Budget. A big lens and DSLR will get you better pictures, but never at a price as low as the P900S.

Goals. Do you want photos that could grace the cover of a magazine? If so, then the P900S may not be your camera. Are you content merely to make a very good visual record of the birds you see? If so, then the P900S may be right for you.

Size. Thought not a “cannon,” the P900S is also not a pocket camera.

Thanks for reading my review, and thanks to Craig for publishing it on shanghaibirding.com!
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Meet Kai Pflug, Nanhui’s Mr. Clean

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

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., 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.

Photographers
Photographers await Fairy Pitta in Microforest 2. (Craig Brelsford)

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.”

pitta
A Fairy Pitta leaps toward a food item at the photography setup in Microforest 2, 11 Sept. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

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.

Black-naped Oriole
This Black-naped Oriole, one of eight we found Sunday at Nanhui, was in full migration mode and very hungry. A forest dweller, Black-naped Oriole is usually among the shyest of birds, but this juvenile was foraging in the open and allowed us to approach while it searched frantically for food. It even sampled a flower petal. (Craig Brelsford)

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.

PHOTOS

Siberian Blue Robin
Siberian Blue Robin, among the 12 we found Sun. 11 Sept. 2016 in the microforests of Cape Nanhui. At Nanhui one usually views these secretive birds from a distance and obscured by branches and leaves, as shown in the two left-hand panels. On their breeding grounds in Heilongjiang, where this past spring Elaine and I studied Siberian Blue Robin and other northeast China breeders, one is lucky to get even this good a view. (Craig Brelsford)
Lesser Coucal
Lesser Coucal with prey. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Kai Pflug picks up litter at Microforest 1, Cape Nanhui, 11 Sept. (Craig Brelsford)
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