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 Surge

Spring has surged into Shanghai! Elaine Du and I noted 92 species on the Qingming weekend. We found 212 endangered Great Knot at Nanhui and Bluethroat and Brown-headed Thrush on Chongming. Other highlights were 2 Greater Scaup and Black-necked Grebe on Chongming and at Nanhui 2 endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting, “Swintail” Snipe, 10 Saunders’s Gull (rare in Shanghai), 3 endangered Far Eastern Curlew, 2 Eurasian Bittern booming amid the sound of traffic, and 10 Pacific Swift.

'Swintail' Snipe, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Note the bill, shorter than the very long bill of Common Snipe, and the underwing, with 'Swintail' showing a uniformly dark, banded underwing and Common usually showing white underwing coverts. Note the pale, diffuse trailing edge to the wing of 'Swintail,' in contrast to the bright-white trailing edge of Common. 'Swintail' is birder's jargon meaning Swinhoe's Snipe or Pin-tailed Snipe, two species that are nearly impossible to separate in the field. The snipe pictured here could be either.
‘Swintail’ Snipe, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Note the bill, shorter than the very long bill of Common Snipe, and the underwing, with ‘Swintail’ showing a uniformly dark, banded underwing and Common usually showing white underwing coverts. Note the pale, diffuse trailing edge to the wing of ‘Swintail,’ in contrast to the bright-white trailing edge of Common. ‘Swintail’ is birder’s jargon meaning Swinhoe’s Snipe or Pin-tailed Snipe, two species that are nearly impossible to separate in the field. The snipe pictured here could be either. (Craig Brelsford)

On Sun. 3 April 2016, fog once again kept Elaine and me off Hengsha Island, our original destination. Driving our rented Skoda Scout, we left the Hengsha ferry terminal on Changxing Island and took the Shanghai Changjiang Bridge across the Yangtze to Chongming Island. Visibility was less than 100 meters when we finally arrived at Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve. Rain, usually a drizzle, sometimes a shower, let up only briefly, around noon.

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: This 'Swintail' was photographed 13 Sept. 2014 in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu. Yes, sigh, it is nearly impossible to distinguish Swinhoe's from Pin-tailed in the field. But it is possible, and much fun, to pick out 'Swintail' from Common! Note here the pale panels on the wings of 'Swintail' (visible in 1a, 2, and 3), note the lighter streaking on the back of this 'Swintail' than would be the case in a typical Common, and observe the lack of white trailing edge to the wings.
This ‘Swintail’ was photographed 13 Sept. 2014 in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu. Yes, sigh, it is nearly impossible to distinguish Swinhoe’s from Pin-tailed in the field. But it is possible, and much fun, to pick out ‘Swintail’ from Common! Note here the pale panels on the wings of ‘Swintail’ (visible in 1a, 2, and 3), note the lighter streaking on the back of this ‘Swintail’ than would be the case in a typical Common, and observe the lack of white trailing edge to the wings. (Craig Brelsford)

We stayed away from fee and permit areas. The northeast sea wall, with its well-protected mudflats beyond, is blocked off by guards wearing camouflage uniforms. A road running inside and parallel to the sea wall is not in a permit area and affords views of the canal-pond at the base of the wall. Reeds running along this inner road are the first tall, thick vegetation a bird flying along the coastline is likely to see and contained several migrants, among them the Brown-headed Thrush and a leaf warbler that may have been Chinese Leaf Warbler. The Phyllosc was soaking wet, and the characteristics I was noting, such as its seeming lack of a strong coronal stripe like Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, may have merely been the effect of the water. We noted the bright yellow rump, were starting to get hopeful–and then the bird disappeared.

On the eastern end of Chongming, we covered the farmland inside the sea wall and did not drive in the permit area atop the wall. We found the Bluethroat at the very good “snipe corner” (31.479537, 121.937001) south of Changjiang Lu. True to form, the skulker quickly hid away, refusing to flush or show. Still, the fleeting glimpse we got was Elaine’s best view ever of Bluethroat.

Common Snipe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 3 April 2016. Can you see the three main differences between this bird and the 'Swintail' above? To wit: longer bill, whiter underwings, and whiter trailing edge to the wings (visible, as here, even from below).
Common Snipe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 3 April 2016. Can you see the three main differences between this bird and the ‘Swintail’ above? To wit: longer bill, whiter underwings, and whiter trailing edge to the wings (visible, as here, even from below). (Craig Brelsford)

My walk through the reeds in pursuit of the Bluethroat scared up 2 Japanese Quail. Common Snipe were numerous, a pair of Oriental Skylark were hollowing out a tiny cup in the grass, and Water/Brown-cheeked Rail squealed once and fell silent. I recorded a fifth distinctive vocalization of Reed Parrotbill; I call this one the “siren.” (For the previous four calls, please visit “Amid the Din of the Diggers.”)

Reed Parrotbill, siren call (00:04; 954 KB)

On Mon. 4 April, Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell once again joined Elaine and me at Nanhui. We noted 73 species. Whereas outings in March gave us a “spring emerging from winter” impression, on Monday the transition to springtime felt complete. All that was missing were the flycatchers and the leaves on the trees in the microforests, those migrant traps dotting the sea wall.

Yellow-breasted Bunting, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Changes to wintering sites, loss of reed-bed habitat for roosting sites, and especially trapping for meat in southern China have reduced the population of this once-abundant species to a fraction of its former strength.
Yellow-breasted Bunting, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Changes to wintering sites, loss of reed-bed habitat for roosting sites, and especially trapping for meat in southern China have reduced the population of this once-abundant species to a fraction of its former strength. (Craig Brelsford)

We rented no car, instead relying on the Shanghai Metro, taxis, a ride from a pair of friendly tourists, and our legs. With sunny skies and temperatures reaching 18 degrees, the weather was nearly perfect, and the exercise put us in a good mood.

The birding area at Nanhui is steadily going from “half-forgotten, mostly empty, natural” to “popular, busy, recreational.” Cars were packed around Nanhuizui Park and the Holiday Inn, and Qingming tourists were streaming out of the buses. Amid the commotion we found our first-of-season singing Manchurian/Japanese Bush Warbler as well as a single Asian House Martin flying among the swifts, the suddenly numerous Barn Swallow, and a single Red-rumped Swallow. At the Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), we climbed to the deck of the derelict building next to the Holiday Inn. There, we enjoyed the expansive views, noted more Pacific Swift, and wondered how on earth a building as huge as this could be built and then immediately abandoned.

Asian House Martin, 4 April 2016.
Asian House Martin, 4 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

North of the Nanhuizui area, photographers were working on 12 Black-winged Stilt that were using a pond close to Microforest 2  (30.926039, 121.970725). Around that pond we found Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The quiet, half-fallow fields behind the pond evoked memories of old Nanhui. We found our Yellow-breasted Bunting here as well as Chestnut-eared Bunting and about 60 of our 90 Pallas’s Reed Bunting. We were looking for but failed to find Japanese Reed Bunting. We noted the absence of harriers, which normally would be hovering over the fields and reed beds.

Great Knot were seen in flight and on the mudflats as the tide receded.

PHOTOS

Oriental Skylark, Chongming, 3 April 2016. This bird, one of the pair whose nest I saw being constructed, shows a pale-buff trailing edge to the wing, not the noticeably brighter white trailing edge characteristic of Eurasian. The tail is shorter than is typically the case in Eurasian.
Oriental Skylark, Chongming, 3 April 2016. This bird, one of the pair whose nest I saw being constructed, shows a pale-buff trailing edge to the wing, not the noticeably brighter white trailing edge characteristic of Eurasian. The tail is shorter than is typically the case in Eurasian. (Craig Brelsford)
Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016.
Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Michael Grunwell (L) checking Mark Brazil's Birds of East Asia, Craig Brelsford checking Collins Bird Guide, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael Grunwell (L) checking Mark Brazil’s Birds of East Asia, Craig Brelsford checking Collins Bird Guide, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. (Elaine Du)

Featured image: Western Osprey carries a fish while flying over Dishui Lake in Shanghai, Mon. 4 April 2016. Lingang, a satellite city that did not exist 10 years ago, looms in the background.

89 Species at Chongming, Dongtai, & Yangkou

On 18-20 March 2016, Elaine Du, Kai Pflug, and I noted 89 species at Chongming, Dongtai, and Yangkou. We found a dowitcher at Dongtai, and at Chongming we had 90 cranes so far away and in such thick fog that we were unable to determine how many were the expected Hooded Crane. The canal at the base of the northeast Chongming sea wall gave us Common Goldeneye, Garganey, and Horned Grebe assuming breeding plumage and Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage. In addition to the dowitcher, Dongtai produced Greater Scaup, Common Merganser, and endangered Far Eastern Curlew and near-threatened Eurasian Oystercatcher as well as early Bar-tailed Godwit, Barn Swallow, and Bull-headed Shrike and singing Chinese Grey Shrike. Yangkou gave us early Black Drongo.

Garganey, Chongming, 18 March 2016, through the spotting scope. Anas querquedula is uncommon in Shanghai region.
Garganey, Chongming, 18 March 2016, through the spotting scope. Anas querquedula is uncommon in Shanghai region. (Craig Brelsford)

On Fri. 18 March Elaine and I left our apartment near Zhongshan Park in a Skoda Scout rented from Avis. We picked up Kai at his home in Jiading, Shanghai and drove to the ferry terminal on Changxing Island in the Yangtze River. Our plan was to take the ferry to Hengsha Island. The ferry was fogged out until at least 07:25, at which time we gave up and drove to Chongming. We noted 49 species there, our chief stops being a place rich in Common Snipe near the base of the eastern sea wall and the aforementioned canal where we found the goldeneye and grebes.

Black-necked Grebe, Chongming, Shanghai, 18 March 2016. Photo taken with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. Middle bird still shows considerable winter plumage.
Black-necked Grebe, Chongming, Shanghai, 18 March 2016. Photo taken with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. Middle bird still shows considerable winter plumage. (Craig Brelsford)

After dark we drove 236 km north on the G40 and G15 to Dongtai. There, we set up for two nights at Greentree Inn (Gélín Háotài Jiǔdiàn [格林豪泰酒店], 160 yuan/night for clean, modern room with fast Internet and breakfast, +86 (0) 515-85820999; 32.749262, 120.850125).

Sat. 19 March saw us note 60 species around what Elaine and I call the Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail. We had a neap tide that crested around 10:00, leaving the shorebirds far out. The godwit showed the slightly upturned bill and was associating with Eurasian Curlew, as was our lone Far Eastern Curlew. The dowitcher was far inside the sea wall and visible only through the spotting scope. It was showing more brown than grey and no orange. It had a long, seemingly straight bill like a snipe but unlike a typical snipe was alone in an area far from cover. We observed a clear sewing-machine feeding motion.

Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus sphenocercus at NE corner of Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, 19 March 2016.
Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus sphenocercus at NE corner of Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, 19 March 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Intensive work is under way around the southeast corner of the reclaimed area. Digging machines were working throughout the weekend dredging up canals, changing forevermore areas where only last year Elaine and I found breeding Common Tern and territorial and possibly breeding Pied Avocet. The plan, clearly spelled out on the billboards near the tourist facilities, is to give nearly the entire reclaimed area over to aquaculture. The Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail offers the best coastal birding within 500 km of Shanghai, it is a critical staging area for Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, it is relied upon by Black-faced Spoonbill, Great Knot, and Far Eastern Curlew–and it is being transformed, utterly. How interesting it is to be birding at this moment in history on the Chinese coast, scene of an ecological disaster like few ever seen before.

On Sunday morning 20 March we again covered the Surf ’n’ Turf Trail. We moved down to Yangkou in the afternoon, and we sneaked in an hour’s worth of birding at Chongming on the way back to the city. At Yangkou we failed to note Brown-cheeked Rail at the spot where I have seen the species three times before. We used playback off and on for about 45 minutes and got no response. Reed Parrotbill were in the area. At the snipe spot on Chongming, I photographed as many of the flushed snipe as possible, trying to find Jack, Pin-tailed, or Swinhoe’s. The photos I got show only Common Snipe.

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 18 March 2016 (49 species)

Common Goldeneye, Chongming, Shanghai, 18 March 2016. Photo taken with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope.
Common Goldeneye, Chongming, Shanghai, 18 March 2016. Photo taken with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. (Craig Brelsford)

Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Cloudy; low 11° C, high 18° C. Wind N 6 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 231 (very unhealthful). Sunrise 05:59, sunset 18:05. FRI 18 MAR 2016 08:30-17:05. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 10
Garganey A. querquedula 4
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 270
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 50
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 10
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 18
Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus 3
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 12
Great Egret A. alba 5
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 22
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 7
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 120
Grus sp. 90
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 3
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 52
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 3
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 5
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 2
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 20
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 14
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 5
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 14
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 50
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 16
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/A. gulgula 40
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 40
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 20
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 2
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 13
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 320
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 12 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 3
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 15
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 12
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 9
Little Bunting E. pusilla 28
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 12
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 10

Mammals

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 19 March 2016 (60 species)

Eurasian Oystercatcher photographed by Kai Pflug on mudflats at Dongtai, Jiangsu, 19 March 2016. Haematopus ostralegus is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN. It is fairly easy to see throughout the year at Dongtai. Kai got this image with his Nikon D810 attached to his new 800 mm F/5.6 lens. F/7.1, 1/640, ISO 640.
Eurasian Oystercatcher photographed by Kai Pflug on mudflats at Dongtai, Jiangsu, 19 March 2016. Haematopus ostralegus is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN. It is fairly easy to see throughout the year at Dongtai. Kai got this image with his Nikon D810 attached to his new 800 mm F/5.6 lens. F/7.1, 1/640, ISO 640. (Kai Pflug)

Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Sunny, hazy; low 4° C, high 17° C. Wind NE 11 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 142 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:02, sunset 18:11. SAT 19 MAR 2016 06:40-17:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 64
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 5
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 40
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 7
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 18
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 4
Northern Pintail A. acuta 60
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 55
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 9
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 2
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 5
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 185
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 44
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 8
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1200
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 11
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 140
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 45
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 100
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 125
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 112
Long-billed/Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus/L. semipalmatus 1
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 1
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 255
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 1
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 7
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 10
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 2
Dunlin Calidris alpina 325
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 22
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris 2
Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 16
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 6
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus 1
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 8
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 15
Japanese Tit Parus minor 5
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 50
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 13
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 7
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 6
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 5
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 15
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 20
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 7

List 1 of 3 for Sun. 20 March 2016 (46 species). Great Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Cloudy; low 7° C, high 12° C. Wind NE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 112 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:57, sunset 18:06. SUN 20 MAR 2016 08:10-12:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 45
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 5
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 25
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 2
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 3
Northern Pintail A. acuta 31
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 6
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 6
Greater Scaup A. marila 8
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 7
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 58
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 25
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 7
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 153
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 138
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 34
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 120
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 2
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 250
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 160
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 50
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi 8
Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 13
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus 2
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/A. gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 10
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 8
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 2
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 6
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 5
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 4
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 25
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2

List 2 of 3 for Sun. 20 March 2016 (18 species)

Elaine Du waiting for Brown-cheeked Rail, which did not show this time, at the reed beds near Haiyin Temple, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 20 March 2016. Area is at 32.557387, 121.037381 and is reliable for Reed Parrotbill and often reliable for Brown-cheeked Rail.
Elaine Du waiting for Brown-cheeked Rail, which did not show this time, at the reed beds near Haiyin Temple, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 20 March 2016. Area is at 32.557387, 121.037381 and is reliable for Reed Parrotbill and often reliable for Brown-cheeked Rail. (Craig Brelsford)

Yangkou (Yángkǒu [洋口]), fishing town in Rudong County (Rúdōng Xiàn [如东县]), Jiangsu, China (32.537730, 121.017746). Area visited: reed beds near Haiyin Temple (32.557387, 121.037381). Cloudy; low 7° C, high 12° C. Wind NE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 112 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:57, sunset 18:06. SUN 20 MAR 2016 13:20-14:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Eurasian Teal Anas crecca 16
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 4
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 6
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 1
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 3
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 3
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 3
Japanese Tit Parus minor 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 10
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 8
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 7
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 1

List 3 of 3 for Sun. 20 March 2016 (14 species). Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Cloudy; low 7° C, high 12° C. Wind NE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 112 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:57, sunset 18:06. SUN 20 MAR 2016 17:00-18:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Great Egret Ardea alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 30
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 4
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 8
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 4
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100

Elaine Du behind the wheel at Chongming, 18 March 2016. As well as keeping the list, my wife, proud holder of a Chinese driver's license, occasionally performs driving duties during our birding trips.
Elaine Du behind the wheel at Chongming, 18 March 2016. As well as keeping the list, my wife, proud holder of a Chinese driver’s license, occasionally performs driving duties during our birding trips. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: German photographer Kai Pflug (L) and Craig Brelsford viewing Black-necked Grebe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 18 March 2016. Photo shows our arrangement well. Kai emphasizes photography, using his incredible new 800 mm F/5.6 lens. Craig is still in the photo game (see camera to his left) but is focusing more these days on bird ID, as evidenced by his use of his Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. Photo by Elaine Du.

Shanghai Early Spring Subway Birding

It’s spring in Shanghai! The equinox hasn’t arrived yet, but Chinese New Year has passed, and in the parks the flowers are blooming. In recent days in Shanghai, Elaine and I have noted Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage, seen Greater Scaup lingering at Dishui Lake, and found Red-throated Thrush amid lawn-loving Dusky Thrush at Century Park.

We reached all our destinations on foot or by subway, with two short taxi rides thrown in. Development continues in Shanghai, and it’s a double-edged sword; the ever-more efficient transportation system allows one to bird Nanhui cheaply, but development is also threatening Nanhui, as more and more reed beds fall to the bulldozer and backhoe.

On Mon. 7 March 2016, fresh from our big trip to Dulong Gorge in Yunnan, Elaine and I did our first birding of the season at Zhongshan Park. We ran into Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), a delightful local man who loves to photograph birds. He never tires of watching the Red-flanked Bluetail and Common Kingfisher that use the wooded area around the little central pond. When we heard the thin calls of Yellow-bellied Tit and discovered them on a bare branch across from where we were standing, Mr. Wang said we had brought him good luck. We heard Eurasian Siskin and Chinese Grosbeak in the trees above. Japanese Tit are singing, and Chinese Blackbird have begun to breed. Pale Thrush are a reminder of winter. Mr. Wang proudly showed us the Indochinese Yuhina he photographed recently at Yangpu Park, and he told us that he has seen Silver-throated Bushtit at Zhongshan.

On Fri. 11 March, Elaine and I made Elaine’s first visit ever and my first since Christmas Day 2011 to Shanghai Botanical Garden. We noted 23 species. 2 Collared Finchbill raised the old question of whether they are really wild, and 2 Yellow-browed Warbler may be a sign that the spring migration is beginning or may merely signify that Yellow-browed remains in Shanghai throughout the winter; Shanghai definitely teeters on the northern edge of this species’ winter range.

We searched in vain for White’s Thrush, and we found only 1 Grey-backed Thrush. Among our 9 Pale Thrush was one completely tamed by the photographers, whose latest innovation is to spear mealworms on a thin, stiff wire and induce the Daurian Redstart to hover to reach them. The redstart was uninjured by this tactic, which is an ethical step up from fastening mealworms with tiny, ingestible nails (as I have previously found Shanghai-area photographers doing). The photographers were chasing the Pale Thrush off, but so hooked was the thrush on the free protein that it refused to go away and made occasional dives at the baited wire. Elsewhere, we heard in this most urban of settings the same “tseep, tseep” contact call that Pale Thrush make in the much wilder country near Elaine’s hometown in Heilongjiang—Pale Thrush breeding ground.

A search for buntings in the nursery area turned up 4 Black-faced Bunting, and an old memory of finding small waders floating on garbage in the river was revived when we saw 5 Common Snipe on Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河). Just as four and a half years ago, these poor snipe were on mats formed by garbage that coalesces in the stagnant water. The snipe were only roosting there, of course, and presumably at dusk they jump onto the nearby muddy ground of the nursery to feed; in any case, the canal, completely walled in, offers zero mud on which to forage.

Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河), Shanghai Botanical Garden, 11 March 2016. Look for Common Snipe floating on mats of garbage in the narrow canal.
Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河), Shanghai Botanical Garden, 11 March 2016. Look for Common Snipe floating on mats of garbage in the narrow canal. (Craig Brelsford)

Shanghai Botanical Garden Gate 4 lies 700 m from Shilong Road Station, Metro Line 3. It is the first place I ever birded in China, two weeks after my arrival in Shanghai in October 2007. I relived with Elaine the thrilling moment when I beheld White’s Thrush for the first time; a moment that at that time and at my level of experience with Asian birds was just as breathtaking as finding Rufous-breasted Bush Robin last month in Dulong Gorge.

On Sat. 12 March, Elaine, Michael Grunwell, and I found 40 species at Nanhui and Huangpu Park on the Bund. We covered Nanhui and the Bund on foot and walked about 16 km. At Nanhui we met a worker in a digging machine carving ditches through which to drain large areas of reed bed, which he said when dry will be leveled and replanted with trees. The operation was well under way; water was running through the newly cut channels as fast as a mountain stream.

This distressing transformation is going to spell disaster for the Reed Parrotbill that are still fairly common at Nanhui. It will mean the end of habitat much relied on by Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Chinese Penduline Tit for winter habitat, it will take away breeding habitat for Oriental Reed Warbler, and it will add to the troubles faced by Oriental Stork and Black-faced Spoonbill, already under pressure at Nanhui.

Digging machines at work at Nanhui, 12 March 2016. A scheme is under way to replace dozens of acres of reed-bed habitat with tree plantations. The loss of the reed beds will be yet another disaster for the Reed Parrotbill, Brown-cheeked Rail, Pallas's Reed Bunting, and other species dependent on reed beds, just as the drying up of nearby ponds and marshes has been bad news for species such as Black-faced Spoonbill and Oriental Stork. It is amazing to me that the city planners fail to see the value of the Nanhui wetlands and reed beds. Everywhere there is this desire to change, to alter, to transform. Photos by Elaine Du.
Digging machines at work at Nanhui, 12 March 2016. A scheme is under way to replace dozens of acres of reed-bed habitat with tree plantations. The loss of the reed beds will be yet another disaster for the Reed Parrotbill, Brown-cheeked Rail, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, and other species dependent on reed beds, just as the drying up of nearby ponds and marshes has been bad news for species such as Black-faced Spoonbill and Oriental Stork. It is amazing to me that the city planners fail to see the value of the Nanhui wetlands and reed beds. Everywhere there is this desire to change, to alter, to transform. (Elaine Du)

I have to wonder, when these huge transformative schemes are discussed in the corridors of power, are environmental experts even present? Have the planners even heard of Reed Parrotbill? Has anyone ever shown them a picture of Black-faced Spoonbill?

The only good news is that the artificial forests that will replace the historical reed-bed habitat will attract migrating passerines, which could use some help as they make their way up and down the Chinese coast. But that was cold comfort for us. “Pale Thrush will tseep where Reed Parrotbill used to chirr,” I sighed to my companions.

The bird scene at Nanhui was more wintry than spring-y, but we found tschutschensis Eastern Yellow Wagtail assuming breeding plumage and at Dishui Lake found Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage. Dishui also yielded 7 Greater Scaup as well as Falcated Duck and Tufted Duck. Pied Avocet, Common Snipe, Dunlin, and Common Greenshank winter in the area; we saw no early evidence of spring migration among shorebirds.

Michael and Craig birding Wài Tān. Note the light, arms-free birding method of Senior Birder Michael Grunwell and the load being shouldered by Porter Craig Brelsford. The Swarovski scope is heavy, but when dealing with a birder of Michael's acumen, it's a burden cheerfully borne. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael and Craig birding Wài Tān. Note the light, arms-free birding method of Senior Birder Michael Grunwell and the load being shouldered by Porter Craig Brelsford. The Swarovski scope is heavy, but when dealing with a birder of Michael’s acumen, it’s a burden cheerfully borne. (Elaine Du)

Continuing our theme of birding-by-subway, we moved our party via Metro Line 16 and Line 2 to the Bund. There, Michael carefully picked through the ca. 150 Vega Gull (Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus) in a fruitless search for a rarity such as Kamchatka Gull or even Heuglin’s. Black-headed Gull were there.

The problem with gulling at Shanghai’s most famous landmark is that one is simultaneously examining some of the trickiest birds known to birding and dealing with dozens of onlookers interested in the laowai with the big lens. However, this most international of meeting points also sends interesting people your way, birders such as Shelley Rutkin, who noticed our activities and introduced herself. It’s a grand place to make friends, there on the Bund with the Pudong skyline as your backdrop.

Shelley told us that a birder reported Slaty-backed Gull on the Huangpu River. This birder was near Shangri-La Hotel on the Pudong side. I have yet to bird Huangpu River from the Pudong side and will be interested to hear how others fare there. Shelley also sent us an interesting image of Red-flanked Bluetail attacking a centipede. Thanks, Shelley!

Red-flanked Bluetail attacks centipede at Century Park, 13 March 2016. Subscriber Shelley Rutkin, who contributed this photo, said that passers-by scared off the bluetail before it could finish off the centipede.
Red-flanked Bluetail attacks centipede at Century Park, 13 March 2016. Subscriber Shelley Rutkin, who contributed this photo, said that passers-by scared off the bluetail before it could finish off the centipede. (Shelley Rutkin)

On Tues. 15 March Elaine and I noted the Red-throated Thrush at Century. Elaine spotted the thrush at sunset at the spacious lawn that on park maps is labeled “Amenity Grass” (疏林草坪区). The thrush was in the company of 60 Dusky Thrush and 1 Naumann’s Thrush that had descended onto the lawn to feed. Turdus ruficollis is scarce in Shanghai; Elaine and I note it two or three times each spring and autumn.

The thrushes were among 28 species we noted on our first trip to Century in 2016. Except for the Red-throated Thrush, the lineup was typical of the place and season. We noted a personal record high of 54 Pale Thrush, and large numbers of White-cheeked Starling and Red-billed Starling were assembling in trees around the very effective Bird Island in the middle of the park. Chinese Blackbird, Chinese Grosbeak, and Japanese Tit were singing.

When we arrived at 15:00, the park was crowded with photographers taking pictures of the cherry trees in bloom. Elaine and I know the park well and retreated to the quietest corners, where we found shy species such as Yellow-throated Bunting and Grey-backed Thrush. As the sun was setting, Elaine found White’s Thrush on the edge of the spacious lawn, which 90 minutes before had been full of people and which now, with all the visitors gone, was turning into a thrush feeding ground.

Featured image: With the Pudong skyscrapers as their backdrop, Craig Brelsford (L) and Michael Grunwell scan the Huangpu River for gulls. Bund, Shanghai, Sat. 12 March 2016. (Elaine Du)

Nanhui on Foot

Elaine and I birded Nanhui on foot, noting 43 species. I had my first-ever visual record of Brown-cheeked Rail in Shanghai, and at Dishui Lake we noted Common Goldeneye, 6 Greater Scaup, and 4 Black-necked Grebe. We had an unusual winter record of Eastern Yellow Wagtail (ssp. tschutschensis).

Common Goldeneye with Falcated Duck, Dishui Lake, 16 Jan. 2016. Photo created with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope mounted on Manfrotto head and carbon-fiber tripod.
Common Goldeneye with Falcated Duck, Dishui Lake, 16 Jan. 2016. Photo created with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope mounted on Manfrotto head and carbon-fiber tripod.

The Brown-cheeked Rail was at 30.907690, 121.972372. Our discovery of the shy species came about because we were walking, not driving. On a sunny and unusually quiet day along Shijitang Road (the sea-wall road), Elaine and I were walking slowly, noting every sound and movement. Had we been driving, we might have missed the brief, piercing call of the rail.

The sound was coming from the reeds at the landward base of the sea wall. As it was time for lunch, and knowing how long rail vigils can take, Elaine and I sat down and ate our sandwiches in the warm sun, watching for movement in the reeds below and recording the calls the rail was intermittently making. Finally, the rail appeared atop the thin drainage canal connecting the wall to the marsh. I got a good enough look at the brownish flanks to affirm that the bird was not the extralimital Water Rail Rallus aquaticus but Brown-cheeked Rail R. indicus.

The valuable record was icing on the cake for us, because Elaine’s and my main goal today was not to acquire lifers but to get outside and exercise. If good birds appeared, we said, then fine, but nothing was more important to us than casting away the cooped-up feeling we get living in our apartment in the center city. We wanted sunshine, broad horizons, and the relatively clean air of Nanhui, and this time, for the first time, we wanted to bird Nanhui on foot.

We were able to do Nanhui without a car because of the recent opening of Metro Line 16, whose south terminus is at Dishui Lake. We needed only 90 minutes to go from our apartment near Zhongshan Park to Dishui Lake, taking Line 2 to Longyang Road and transferring to Line 16. After a quick taxi ride, by 08:15 we were at our favorite Dishui Lake viewpoint (30.908702, 121.945124). Having noted in addition to the aforementioned birds 350 Falcated Duck, 4 Tufted Duck, 1 of today’s 2 Richard’s Pipit, and surprisingly 0 Common Pochard, Elaine and I walked toward the coast. I had no camera with me, only my spotting scope and binoculars.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis, an unusual winter record for Shanghai.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis, an unusual winter record for Shanghai.

At the sea wall, we turned north, finding many Buff-bellied Pipit, White Wagtail, and the misplaced Eastern Yellow Wagtail. We ID’d our 2 Pied Harrier on the basis of the combination of brown back, greyish secondaries, and white rump of both birds, which were together. We heard two more rails but in even thicker cover than the first; we did not wait around for a visual to nail the ID, but we presume that they too were Brown-cheeked. Walking on an unpaved road into the reeds, we startled Common Snipe and Eurasian Teal. We watched Reed Parrotbill pry open the reed stems, making a crunchy sound.

One snipe, a loner, made only a quick, low flight before dropping stonelike and silently into the reeds. There was no “sneeze” at takeoff, unlike Common Snipe, and I saw no white trailing edge to the wing (which is not to say it was not there). The snipe appeared smaller than Common. Because of the angle of the snipe’s head as it dropped, I could not see the bill. Was it Jack Snipe? I do not know, but I urge local birders not to chalk up every snipe they see to Common but to take a good, hard look.

We u-turned and walked south, reaching the bus stop behind the Magic Parking Lot at the Holiday Inn. It was 15:20 and we had walked 17 km. We took the bus back to the Dishui Lake Metro Station. The subway ride back to Zhongshan Park was just as smooth as the ride out.

Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du sleeping on Line 16. It's a long ride out to Dishui Lake, but birders are virtually guaranteed a seat on Line 16. That's because the stations one uses to access and exit Line 16 (Dishui Lake and Longyang Road) are the terminuses of Line 16. Note here that, even though I was fast asleep, I nonetheless retained the presence of mind to photographically record this moment for you.
Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du sleeping on Line 16. It’s a long ride out to Dishui Lake, but birders are virtually guaranteed a seat on Line 16. That’s because the stations one uses to access and exit Line 16 (Dishui Lake and Longyang Road) are the terminuses of Line 16.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 16 Jan. 2016 (43 species). Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159). List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Thick morning haze then mostly sunny skies; low 0°C, high 10°C. Visibility 0-10 km. Wind E 6 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 189 (Shanghai). Sunrise 06:53, sunset 17:15. SAT 16 JAN 2016 08:15-15:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 350
Gadwall A. strepera 9
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 50
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 50
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 70
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 4
Greater Scaup A. marila 6
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 14
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 30
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 4
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 25
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos 2
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail R. indicus/R. aquaticus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 150
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 30
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 17
snipe sp. 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 8
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 12
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 9
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 5
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 12
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 1 tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba 18 (17 leucopsis, 1 ocularis)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Buff-Bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 16
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 40

Featured image: Craig Brelsford viewing Brown-cheeked Rail in a drainage ditch at Nanhui, Shanghai, China, Sat. 16 Jan. 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.