Hainan Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus hainanus is endemic to Hainan Island, China. Hainan Leaf Warbler is locally common in mountain preserves mainly in south of island from 600 m (1,970 ft.) to 1500 m (4,920 ft.). Often in flocks, sometimes mixed; often at edges of secondary forests. The bright yellow Hainan Leaf Warbler is readily distinguishable from its more drably colored congeners on Hainan. Supercilium, wingbars bright yellow; median crown-stripe slightly lighter yellow. Crown sides, eye-stripe, and upperparts greenish-yellow (even wings quite uniform due to greenish-yellow wing coverts and fringes to remiges), brightest on lower back, rump, and uppertail coverts. Tail brownish-grey with green fringing and extensive white on outer rectrices. Underparts uniform yellow. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler of race goodsoni can appear almost uniformly yellow below, but never as bright as Hainan. Sulphur-breasted and Yellow-vented Warbler have blackish crown sides and no obvious white in tail; Yellow-vented also has a white belly. Hainan Leaf Warbler is slightly smaller than the others. Bill black above, orange below; feet orange-brown or pinkish-grey. Song a high-pitched slur of several notes, repeated with pauses typically lasting 4-6 seconds; similar to Hartert’s Leaf Warbler but slightly softer and less rhythmic; “pit-sui” call note also similar to other close relatives. — Craig Brelsford
Per Alström, Trevor Price, and Pratap Singh are studying song evolution in the leaf warbler family (Phylloscopidae). To understand how different song traits have evolved, the scientists plan to analyze vocalizations of all the species of leaf warbler and map their song parameters and calls on their molecular phylogeny.
The team is analyzing whole songs of all the species for size of song repertoire and singing variety. They need long song recordings, particularly for species having large repertoires.
For each species, Alström, Price, and Singh need 10 long recordings. They lack material for the following species:
Can you share your recordings of the species above?
Alström et al. prefer uncompressed WAV files but will accept mp3’s. Please make clear the species in your recording. Your contribution will be acknowledged in the publication the team is preparing.
Attach your sound-recordings to an email and send it to Alström, Price, and Singh:
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Department of Ecology and Evolution
University of Chicago, USA
Wildlife Institute of India
Featured image: An international team of scientists is calling on birders to provide sound-recordings of leaf warblers. Pictured here are five of the species for which recordings are needed. Clockwise from top L: Sulphur-bellied WarblerPhylloscopus griseolus, Alpine Leaf WarblerP. occisinensis, Smoky WarblerP. fuligiventer weigoldi, Pallas’s Leaf WarblerP. proregulus, and Hainan Leaf WarblerP. hainanus. (Craig Brelsford)
I spent 27 nights on Hainan Island, arriving in Sānyà on 14 Jan. 2013 and leaving on 10 Feb. 2013. My goal was to create a photographic survey of the birds of Hainan. I saw or heard 94 species, about a quarter of the total recorded for the island. Three of the species I noted are endemic to Hainan, and 23 are subspecies endemic to Hainan. I spent most of my time at Jiānfēnglǐng National Forest Park.
— At Jiānfēnglǐng, photographing Ratchet-tailed Treepie, a species in China found only on Hainan
— Seeing, but never photographing, Hainan Peacock-Pheasant; hearing, but never seeing, Hainan Partridge. Both are endemic to Hainan
— At Bàwánglǐng, finding and photographing Hainan Silver Pheasant by driving slowly at dawn and dusk along the mountain roads
— Discovering a flowering tree next to a rooftop at Jiānfēnglǐng and from the vantage point atop the roof observing and photographing many species of bird
— Watching Greater Racket-tailed Drongo wait patiently for a Greater Yellownape to finish drilling. If the yellownape had prey, then the drongo would attempt to snatch it
— Finding Grey-headed Swamphen and Lesser Whistling Duck at Hǎiwěi Wetland
— At Jiānfēnglǐng, enjoying the cool nights and warm days at elev. 950 m (3,120 ft.)
At 0500 my assistant, Shàng Qún Yīng (尚群英), arrived at my apartment in Shanghai. Our flight for Sānyà (三亚) took off from Hóngqiáo Airport at 0710. At Sānyà Airport, I rented a Nissan Tiida. I drove west, my destination Jiānfēnglǐng National Forest Park (尖峰岭国家森林公园, Jiānfēnglǐng Guójiā Sēnlín Gōngyuán). Near the entrance to the preserve (at an elev. of about 125 m or 410 ft.), I photographed a female Brown ShrikeLanius cristatus. At the gate, I found Asian Brown FlycatcherMuscicapa latirostris latirostris and Oriental Magpie-RobinCopsychus saularis prosthopellus. In the park I stopped at a parking area at elev. 750 m (2,460 ft.). A bird wave was passing through. Within it were a male and female Blyth’s Shrike-babblerPteruthius aeralatus ricketti, White-throated FantailRhipidura albicollis celsa, Puff-throated BulbulAlophoixus pallidus pallidus (endemic ssp.), and Grey-capped Pygmy WoodpeckerDendrocopos canicapillus swinhoei (endemic ssp.). On a branch 31 m away, just visible through a break in the trees, was a Collared OwletGlaucidium brodiei brodiei. I was able to photograph both the face and the false face on the nape. Driving again, I found Grey WagtailMotacilla cinerea and White-crowned ForktailEnicurus leschenaulti sinensis. White-crowned is the only species of forktail on Hainan. We arrived at the resort, elevation 950 m (3,120 ft.). In the parking lot, I found some very tame Puff-throated and Mountain BulbulIxos mcclellandii holtii. In the forest, taking a short walk on the 2-km loop trail, I heard the clear, unmistakable calls of Hainan PartridgeArborophila ardens (endemic sp.). The birds, which judging by their calls were in two groups, were within a few hundred meters of me. I noted the loud, two-note, cuckoo-like call. After night fell, I heard the metallic, two-note whistle of Mountain Scops OwlOtus spilocephalus latouchi.
Tues. 15 Jan. 2013
On the loop trail I photographed female Pale Blue FlycatcherCyornis unicolor diaoluoensis (endemic ssp.). At Kōngzhōng Huāyuán (空中花园), a scenic spot on the loop trail, I found 2 Hainan Silver Pheasant Lophura nycthemera whiteheadi (endemic ssp. of Silver Pheasant). I admired the view of Mt. Jiānfēng, elev. 1400 m (4,590 ft.). Chinese BarbetMegalaima faber faber (endemic ssp.) were feeding in fruiting trees. Joining them were Mountain, Puff-throated, and Chestnut BulbulHemixos castanonotus castanonotus. Just down the trail from the deck at the scenic area, I found a female Red-headed TrogonHarpactes erythrocephalus hainanus (endemic ssp.). I saw a flock of Grey-headed ParrotbillPsittiparus gularis hainanus (endemic ssp.). After lunch, a bird wave passed through the resort. Within the wave was Yellow-billed NuthatchSitta solangiae chienfengensis (endemic ssp.). I found Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker and Olive-backed PipitAnthus hodgsoni. Asian Palm SwiftCypsiurus balasiensis infumatus were flying noisily around the parking lot. They are a daily presence here.
Wed. 16 Jan. 2013
As soon as it was light, I walked slowly on the loop trail to Kōngzhōng Huāyuán. I glimpsed Hainan Silver Pheasant again. I had a brief encounter with White-bellied ErpornisErpornis zantholeuca griseiloris. Until recently mistakenly considered to be a yuhina, White-bellied Erpornis is now properly assigned to Vireonidae and is one of the few representatives of the vireo family outside the Americas. Chinese Barbet and the three species of bulbul were feeding. I saw one of the better-known Hainan endemics: Hainan Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus hainanus. The warbler was making its loud call and working its way through a tree near me. I got my first images ever of Grey-chinned MinivetPericrocotus solaris griseogularis. Of the four species of minivets in China whose males are scarlet, Grey-chinned is the easiest to distinguish. I was struck by the flycatcher-like smallness of the bird; it is noticeably smaller than the other three similarly colored minivets.
In the afternoon, at the resort, I got my first images of male Red-headed Trogon. I watched this unusual bird for several minutes. This non-passerine flycatcher (and fruit eater) is most unlike a Muscicapid flycatcher. It rests on its branch for minutes at a time, whereas a Muscicapid flycatcher usually waits only seconds before darting after prey. Compared to the Muscicapids, the trogon gives the impression of being an older model, an Edsel compared to a Corvette. To be sure, Red-headed Trogon is a “modern” bird, inasmuch as it and its relatives in Trogonidae are with us today; but the trogon family is an ancient one, as its pan-tropical distribution suggests. The trogon looks like no other bird in the forest. Like barbets and woodpeckers, it is a zygodactyl cavity nester, but it is otherwise quite unlike them. It chirrs softly, like a motor, and it screeches suddenly.
Standing on the roof of one of the chalets, I witnessed an interesting bit of behavior by a Greater Racket-tailed DrongoDicrurus paradiseus johni (endemic ssp.) The drongo was perched beside Greater YellownapeChrysophlegma flavinucha styani. The yellownape was drilling. As soon as it dug out something, the drongo reached in and tried to snatch it. Does not such behavior indicate that the drongo could envision a future event? The drongo must have learned that a drilling woodpecker is likely to dig out something worth stealing. I see training there, learning, not mere instinct.
Thurs. 17 Jan. 2013
Another morning spent along the loop trail. The highlight of the morning was photographing Streak-breasted Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus ruficollis nigrostellatus (endemic ssp.). I also had a familiar bird, Red-flanked BluetailTarsiger cyanurus. Bluetails are common in wintertime in the city parks of Shanghai; here was a reminder of home. In the afternoon I took a drive. Just down the road from my hotel, I found a loud flock of about 25 Sultan TitMelanochlora sultanea flavocristata. I again found Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler. Olive-backed Pipit were feeding in an orchard near Lake Tiānchí, elev. 825 m. I drove about 4 km on the dirt road leading from the lake. I was pleasantly surprised at the considerable amount of forest on the ridges and mountainsides; in places, unbroken forest stretched to the bottom of the valley. There were farms but no rubber plantations. On the way back, I saw Long-tailed ShrikeLanius schach schach. I was unable to photograph a flock of five Spot-necked BabblerStachyris striolata swinhoei (endemic ssp.).
Fri. 18 Jan. 2013
I once again was out at dawn. On the boardwalk I found Red-headed Trogon, and, upon arriving at Kōngzhōng Huāyuán, Green-billed MalkohaPhaenicophaeus tristis tristis. The malkoha was foraging at the top of a tall tree. In the gloomy forest near the deck, I found Red-flanked Bluetail. By the house-sized rock upon which “鳴鳳谷” (Míngfèng Gǔ) is written in traditional Chinese characters, a bird wave passed by. In it were White-bellied Erpornis, White-throated Fantail, a few Hainan Leaf Warbler, a pair of Grey-chinned Minivet, and a Phylloscopus warbler, most likely Yellow-browed WarblerPhylloscopus inornatus. An afternoon drive netted little, but I was pleased to meet Xǔ Hán (许涵), a biodiversity researcher at the Jiānfēnglǐng Environmental Observation Station (尖峰岭生态观测站, Jiānfēnglǐng Shēngtài Guāncèzhàn). A bóshì (博士, Ph.D), Hán literally wrote the book on the local environment. (Actually, he co-authored it.) Hán gave me a copy of his book. Hán told me that tigers and elephants have never occurred on Hainan and that Hainan Gibbon no longer occurs at Jiānfēnglǐng.
Sat. 19 Jan. 2013
Walking alone on the loop trail at first light, I heard a wing beating the air. The sound came from a small bird on the ground. I strained to find the bird. Finally I discerned an Eyebrowed Wren-BabblerNapothera epilepidota hainana (endemic ssp.). The bird was only 3 m from me. This tiny brown bird is a master skulker; it almost never leaves the forest floor. If a breeze is blowing, then it is difficult to know whether the wind just twitched that fallen leaf, or whether the wren-babbler moved it while foraging. I photographed this species in Xishuāngbǎnnà in Yunnan last year, and I therefore spared myself the exertion of photographing it again. I found yet another Red-headed Trogon near the giant tree. Another bird wave near the Míngfèng Gǔ Rock afforded me views of a pair of Grey-chinned Minivet, Hainan Leaf Warbler, Black-winged CuckooshrikeCoracina melaschistos saturata, and Yellow-browed Leaf Warbler. Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker was high in a tree. At Kōngzhōng Huāyuán, I got a fleeting glimpse of a male Hainan Blue FlycatcherCyornis hainanus. A Chinese Barbet was there, as were the bulbuls and Grey-chinned Minivet. I had lunch at the little restaurant by Lake Tiānchí. In the lake was a single Little GrebeTachybaptus ruficollis poggei. Along the shore was Amur Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis, ssp. of White Wagtail. After lunch, I was by the research station talking to some of the researchers. As we chatted, a noisy flock of Sultan Tit flew in. I spotted a pair of Black-throated LaughingthrushDryonastes chinensis monachus (endemic ssp.). There were also a long-tailed shrike and a pair of Light-vented BulbulPycnonotus sinensis hainanus. I saw White-rumped MuniaLonchura striata swinhoei.
Sun. 20 Jan. 2013
In the morning, in the parking lot of the resort I found a male Scarlet MinivetPericrocotus speciosus fraterculus. At Lake Tiānchí I was able to get good photos of Black-throated Laughingthrush. I drove to the old “botanical garden” and found Puff-throated Bulbul. I returned to Lake Tiānchí, where I found Little Grebe, “Amur” Wagtail, Light-vented Bulbul, White-rumped Munia, Chinese Pond HeronArdeola bacchus, and a female Siberian or Stejneger’s Stonechat (Saxicola maurus przewalskii or S. [maurus] stejnegeri).
Mon. 21 Jan. 2013
At dawn I drove down to Lake Tiānchí. I wanted another look at Black-throated Laughingthrush. I didn’t see them this time. The stonechat was still there, as were a pair of Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler. I photographed Plain PriniaPrinia inornata extensicauda. I returned to the resort. Tiānjīn Māma pointed to a female Red-headed Trogon in a nearby tree. A male was nearby. I found Hainan Leaf Warbler, finally getting a satisfactory image of that species. I met Mrs. Huáng, a budding bird photographer from Beijing. Mrs. Huáng and I photographed a male Fork-tailed SunbirdAethopyga christinae christinae (endemic ssp.). We walked the boardwalk trail to Kōngzhōng Huāyuán, where we saw the Chinese Barbet and the three species of bulbul, once again feeding on the abundant fruit. Somewhere in the trees above, Pale Blue Flycatcher was singing. I couldn’t see the Pale Blue, but I ID’d it by comparing the song I was hearing to the almost identical song I had downloaded from Xeno-Canto and synced over to my iPhone 3GS. After lunch with Mrs. Huáng and her sister, I was walking back to my room. Suddenly I was in the middle of a mixed flock. The biggest ingredient was Huet’s FulvettaAlcippe hueti rufescentior (endemic ssp.). There were also Puff-throated Bulbul, a pair of male Sultan Tit, and Yellow-billed Nuthatch. An Olive-backed Pipit jumped onto one of the posts holding up the clotheslines.
Tues. 22 Jan. 2013
At the resort, I climbed onto the rooftop of the employees’ dormitory next to a flowering tree; this spot became so productive that I named it the Magic Rooftop. There I met a pair of Orange-bellied LeafbirdChloropsis hardwickii lazulina (endemic ssp.). Chinese Barbet and Mountain Bulbul joined them. White-bellied Erpornis showed up, along with a pair of Grey-chinned Minivet. The minivets were building a nest in the upper branches of the flowering tree. Scarlet Minivet were sticking to the higher parts of the taller trees. A Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker was atop one of the tall trees. The chirring of Red-headed Trogon was audible from the rooftop. When the sun became too bright, I moved to the picnic table in front of my room. I heard the sweet, cheerful song of Pale Blue Flycatcher. I knew the bird was somewhere near, but where? I spotted the bird on a low bough of a tree. The song of the flycatcher moved me. He was singing beautifully, softly. The flycatcher was barely opening his bill, and still the music came out. The song welled up from deep inside him. It is an inseparable part of him, something he very much believes in . . . I was brunching in the chalet area, admiring the flycatcher and eating at the same time. I was sitting at a little picnic table. I had a front-row seat to Paradise. In Heaven, the weather will be something like Jiānfēnglǐng in January: cool nights, warm days, morning dew, no rain.
Later I walked around the resort and saw Fork-tailed Sunbird and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler.
Wed. 23 Jan. 2013
Jiānfēnglǐng, Bàwánglǐng (霸王岭)
I was on the Magic Rooftop at first light. Orange-bellied Leafbird were feeding along with Mountain Bulbul. Yellow-billed Nuthatch flew to a bare tree. I had first views in Hainan of Bronzed DrongoDicrurus aeneus aeneus, Japanese White-eyeZosterops japonicus hainanus (endemic ssp.), and Verditer FlycatcherEumyias thalassinus thalassinus, and my first look ever at Mountain Imperial PigeonDucula badia griseicapilla. After nine nights at Jiānfēnglǐng, I headed to Bàwánglǐng (霸王岭).
Thurs. 24 Jan. 2013
At the hotel in Bàwánglǐng Town, I had my first look ever at Ashy WoodswallowArtamus fuscus. Driving up to Bàwánglǐng National Forest Park, I saw Bronzed Drongo. Around the “haunted house” (an abandoned building near Kilometer 23), I saw a flock of perhaps 20 Light-vented Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, and Puff-throated Bulbul, a Green-billed Malkoha, White-throated Fantail, Huet’s Fulvetta, Olive-backed Pipit, and Grey Wagtail. My assistant and I took a walk up the road. We found 2 Grey-chinned Minivet and a mixed flock containing Huet’s Fulvetta, White-throated Fantail, and Rufous-faced WarblerAbroscopus albogularis fulvifacies. Back at the haunted house, I found another big flock of Huet’s Fulvetta, Yellow-browed Warbler, Fork-tailed Sunbird, and 2 Black BulbulHypsipetes leucocephalus perniger (endemic ssp.). Bàwánglǐng is a good preserve, but access to the topmost area is restricted; I was allowed to go to the area around the haunted house today only; afterward, the manager said, I would need a permit from the authorities in Hǎikǒu.
Fri. 25 Jan. 2013
Food poisoning. No birding.
Sat. 26 Jan. 2013
I was still weak but managed to bird for a few hours. On the road heading up the mountain at Bàwánglǐng, at about 1000 m above sea level, I saw two raptors: perching Crested GoshawkAccipiter trivirgatus indicus and soaring Crested Honey BuzzardPernis ptilorhynchus orientalis. I saw both birds on the main road leading into Bàwánglǐng. Near Bàwánglǐng Town, I found Spotted DoveSpilopelia chinensis chinensis. Other birds: Huet’s Fulvetta, Chestnut Bulbul, and White-throated Fantail.
Sun. 27 Jan. 2013
Today was Hainan Silver Pheasant day. We saw our first pair by Dong Yi. At dusk we saw another. The view at dusk came about this way: As the afternoon light began to fade, I said to my assistant, “Let’s not quit just yet. Let’s drive up the mountain a ways. Maybe a Silver Pheasant will cross the road.” We drove up the hill. Five minutes later, a Silver Pheasant crossed the road. Also by Dong Yi, we found a flock of Large WoodshrikeTephrodornis virgatus hainanus. Woodshrikes resemble shrikes but are not closely related to them; they are easily distinguished from shrikes by their flocking behavior and preference for forests.
Mon. 28 Jan. 2013
Bàwánglǐng, Hǎiwěi (海尾)
Early this morning at Bàwánglǐng, I once again found Hainan Silver Pheasant along the side of the road. This time, there were four: three males and a female. The female and two of the males flew across the road. The third male stayed on the ground long enough to allow a photo. I had about four seconds to record an image. In that time, I had to stop the car, reach over to the foot of the passenger seat for my camera, stick it through my open window, set it on the rear-view mirror, and shoot. One mistake and the bird would have gotten away. What a thrill it was to get the process right and come home with a winner. Further uphill I saw, feeding on the road, a Common Emerald DoveChalcophaps indica indica. Also saw mixed flock containing Huet’s Fulvetta and White-bellied Erpornis. On the road leading to Dong Yi, I found Eurasian WoodcockScolopax rusticola. The woodcock was sitting motionless on the pavement. It looked like any of the large leaves lying here and there on the road; the difference was that this leaf had a long bill. At the large cleared-out area around Dong Yi, I had male and female Oriental Magpie-Robin, Olive-backed Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Siberian or Stejneger’s Stonechat, Long-tailed Shrike, and Cinereous TitParus cinereus hainanus (endemic ssp.). Driving slowly on the forest road, we found Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler. We left Bàwánglǐng and drove to the coast. Our destination: Chāngjiāng Xiàn Hǎiwěi Shīdì Gōngyuán (昌江县海尾湿地公园). English: Hǎiwěi Wetland. I was looking for Grey-headed SwamphenPorphyrio poliocephalus poliocephalus and Lesser Whistling DuckDendrocygna javanica. I found both species inside the park. Before entering the park, I photographed Black DrongoDicrurus macrocercus cathoecus, Eastern Cattle EgretBulbulcus coromandus, Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus interstinctus, and ShikraAccipiter badius poliopsis. Inside: Little Grebe, Spotted Dove, Cinereous Tit, Light-vented Bulbul, Common MoorhenGallinula chloropus chloropus, Grey HeronArdea cinerea, Little EgretEgretta garzetta garzetta, Great EgretArdea alba, Black-crowned Night HeronNycticorax nycticorax nycticorax, Black-capped KingfisherHalcyon pileata, Pied KingfisherCeryle rudis insignis, White-throated KingfisherHalcyon smyrnensis fokiensis, and Olive-backed SunbirdCinnyris jugularis rhizophorae.
Tues. 29 Jan. 2013
Hǎiwěi, Qióngzhōng (琼中)
Still at Hǎiwěi Wetland. New Hǎiwěi species: Siberian/Stejneger’s Stonechat, Plain Prinia, Eastern Marsh HarrierCircus spilonotus, Pheasant-tailed JacanaHydrophasianus chirurgus, Purple HeronArdea purpurea manilensis, and Richard’s PipitAnthus richardi.
Wed. 30 Jan. 2013
Spent day resting at Qióngzhōng (琼中). No birding.
Thu. 31 Jan. 2013
At Ātuólǐng (阿陀岭) I photographed Rufous-capped BabblerStachyris ruficeps goodsoni (endemic ssp.). Also got a nice shot of Hainan Leaf Warbler, and I found Huet’s Fulvetta. I’m near Mt. Five Fingers (五指山, wǔzhǐshān). Elev. at Ātuólǐng: about 925 m (3,040 ft.).
Fri. 1 Feb. 2013
On the road leading up to the television tower at Ātuólǐng, I photographed male White-throated Rock ThrushMonticola gularis and Pallas’s Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus proregulus. Other birds: Common Emerald Dove, Chinese Barbet, Black Bulbul, White-bellied Erpornis, Huet’s Fulvetta, Rufous-capped Babbler, and White-crowned Forktail. On the road to Máoyáng (毛阳), I snapped a photo of a male Red-bellied Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis, ssp. of Blue Rock Thrush. Grey Wagtail were numerous along the side of the road. Oriental Magpie-Robin were common near villages. After a long drive, I arrived back at Jiānfēnglǐng.
Sat. 2 Feb. 2013
Once again heard, but still have yet to see, Hainan Partridge. Morning on Magic Rooftop: Chinese Barbet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo flying gracefully by, Scarlet Minivet, Verditer Flycatcher, Sultan Tit, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Hainan Leaf Warbler, Grey-chinned Minivet, Japanese White-eye, Red-headed Trogon, White-bellied Erpornis, ever-present White-crowned Forktail, Mountain Bulbul, Puff-throated Bulbul, and Fire-breasted FlowerpeckerDicaeum ignipectus ignipectus. The Mountain Bulbul are no longer interested in the flowers on the tree next to the Magic Rooftop.
Sun. 3 Feb. 2013
At long last, I have bagged Spot-necked Babbler, yet another subspecies endemic to Hainan. Yesterday afternoon, I took a long, slow drive up the hill, putt-putting in my Nissan, half-looking for pheasants, half-looking for babblers. Then, I heard calls that sounded like fulvettas’, but weren’t quite the same. My Swarovski 8 x 32 binoculars pulled in the image from the dim forest: Spot-necked! A long wait last night produced no images but confirmed that I’d found the place. Then the early run this morning; I saw the Spot-necked within a minute of arriving at the spot. They darted into the gloom, but I was confident that they’d be back. Sure enough, they were back, and I got my first set. Mediocre shots; I wanted more. Another disappearance, another long wait, and then, once again, paydirt. I hung in and fought the battle. I stood in the leech-infested forest; I held out for Spot-necked babbler. I was totally focused. Highwaymen, grim Hainan mountain highwaymen, could come to rob me, and I’d say, “Hold on, please; I’m in the middle of shooting the Hainanese subspecies of Spot-necked Babbler.” “Oh, well, in that case … ” they’d say. In the afternoon I went back to the spot and got best-evers of that species. Some of my shots were taken at ISO 12800, and they turned out good. Just before shooting Spot-necked Babbler, I got my first-ever views and images of Dusky FulvettaAlcippe brunnea arguta (endemic ssp.).
Mon. 4 Feb. 2013
Finally, finally, finally! I’ve photographed Ratchet-tailed TreepieTemnurus temnurus. I was on the Magic Rooftop. A pair passed through quickly, using only the crowns of the trees. Within minutes they were gone. Leaving the Magic Rooftop, I found a male Red-headed Trogon on the wall separating the resort from the military property next door. In the afternoon, on another rooftop (that of the highest building at the resort), I heard Collared Owlet. Other birds: Sultan Tit, White-bellied Erpornis, and Grey-chinned and Scarlet Minivet. I got my best-ever images of Pale Blue Flycatcher. Spot-necked Babbler made their characteristic calls, then, just as it was getting dark, very fleetingly appeared. I got full-body images of Black-throated Laughingthrush.
Tues. 5 Feb. 2013
Although I saw no new species today, it was an exciting day photographically; I achieved memorable shots of a male Hainan Blue Flycatcher and a female Fork-tailed Sunbird. I got those images in the garden of a hotel near Lake Tiānchí. In the morning, I was on the Magic Rooftop at the resort. Birds were plentiful. The most interesting bird was Rufous-faced Warbler, which I recorded for the first time at Jiānfēnglǐng.
Wed. 6 Feb. 2013
At long last, I’ve seen Hainan Peacock-PheasantPolyplectron bicalcaratum (endemic sp.). I was on the boardwalk trail at the resort. At about 0830 I came upon the bird. It was a female, apparently alone. I noted its smallness (it’s noticeably smaller than female Silver Pheasant) and the lack of bare red facial skin. I observed its long tail. There was no chance for a photograph. The peacock-pheasant slipped into the undergrowth. Soon after, tourists started arriving. Huet’s Fulvetta were near the spot where I saw the peacock-pheasant. A pair of Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler have made a nest. Later in the morning, there arrived a very loud mixed flock containing three Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, 2 Ratchet-tailed Treepie, and a flock of 5 Lesser Necklaced LaughingthrushGarrulax monileger schmackeri. I photographed Lesser YellownapePicus chlorolophus longipennis (endemic ssp.). In the afternoon around Lake Tiānchí, I saw a single Chinese BlackbirdTurdus mandarinus. The female Fork-tailed Sunbird was still there, as was the male Hainan Blue Flycatcher. Japanese White-eye and Chestnut Bulbul appeared.
Thu. 7 Feb. 2013
I spent the morning in the forest around the resort. I watched the nesting scimitar babblers again and saw Red-headed Trogon and Dusky Fulvetta. Later, a large mixed flock arrived. In it were 2 Ratchet-tailed Treepie, 3 Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, 7 Large Woodshrike, 3 Sultan Tit, a pair of Grey-chinned Minivet, and 3 Rufous-cheeked LaughingthrushGarrulax castanotis castanotis (endemic ssp.). I was able only to get a blurry image of rufous-cheeked, a disappointment. Still, it is a useful record shot; the orange patch is discernible.
Fri. 8 Feb. 2013
I once again was in the forest at first light. A Collared Owlet was hooting and Hainan Partridge were calling. I found 2 Puff-throated Bulbul and got a best-ever photo of Spot-necked Babbler. Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler were once again conspicuous. A single male Fork-tailed Sunbird was using a flowering tree in the forest. I saw a Ratchet-tailed Treepie. In the afternoon, I hardly needed to walk at all: just outside my room I found Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, and Red-headed Trogon. Because Hainan is the northern tropics, there is some approximation of seasons; it’s now “springtime” down here, and birds are beginning to want to mate. In recent days I have seen Yellow-billed Nuthatch constructing a nest, I have seen Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler at their nest, and I have heard Pale Blue Flycatcher singing throughout the day (and especially at sunrise and sunset). Today I was thrilled to see Asian Palm Swift making nests in the thatched roof of the open-air restaurant at the resort. These birds fly into the restaurant at blinding speed then with incredible precision disappear into the roof. The roof is thatched with palm fronds, just the material these swifts need for nesting.
Sat. 9 Feb. 2013
Today is Chúxī, Chinese New Year’s Eve. This is my last full day on Hainan. The weather has been nearly perfect; I’ve lost not a single hour to rain. Along the coast and at the lower elevations, the weather was too warm for me, but at the higher elevations such as Jiānfēnglǐng, the weather has been fine. Yes, it is tough photographing birds in a rain forest. Dim light, birds hidden in the thick vegetation, birds lost in the high canopy: I’ve long since accepted the limitations. Every day involves hours of fruitless searching and waiting. But every day I manage to come up with one, two, or more compelling images. As Steve Bale put it in a text message to me, “[T]he difficulty [of birding in a rain forest] makes the reward that much sweeter when it eventually arrives.”
Today, once again, I was in the forest at first light. Almost immediately, a flock of Rufous-cheeked Laughingthrush flew through. Later on, I found, high in the canopy, a single Common Green MagpieCissa chinensis chinensis. I saw Green-billed Malkoha and once again a Ratchet-tailed Treepie. I got my best-ever shot of Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler. The wren-babbler jumped onto the edge of the boardwalk, a most impressive sight, as it’s rare to see these birds clear of leaves and twigs. Two were together, and earlier today I’d seen other eyebroweds singing. Chinese Barbet and Spot-necked Babbler were noisy but remained unseen. I saw Huet’s Fulvetta and Eastern Crowned WarblerPhylloscopus coronatus. Why Eastern Crowned? No other Phylloscopus warbler has my bird’s combination of single wingbar (faint here), elongate shape, long bill, long supercilium (almost meeting on nape), and yellowish undertail coverts. I know that in MacKinnon as well as the Handbook to the Birds of the World Eastern Crowned Warbler is not listed as occurring on Hainan. But note that a few days before I took this photo, a Chinese birding friend of mine got clear images of White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea near Míngfèng Gǔ Rock on the boardwalk trail. I looked in MacKinnon; no White’s on Hainan. I looked in Handbook to the Birds of the World; no White’s on Hainan. Clearly, the books can be wrong.
Sun. 10 Feb. 2013
Jiānfēnglǐng, Sānyà, Shanghai
Heard the calls of Spot-necked Babbler: first, the clear, three-note whistle, then the whinnying call. A Spot-necked appeared, making a third sound, a snort. Saw Dusky Fulvetta. Left forest and walked the grounds of the resort. Quiet. I made a final climb up to the Magic Rooftop and saw no new species. A small mixed flock flew into the trees; the Rufous-faced Warbler were agitated, singing constantly, and I saw White-bellied Erpornis. The flowers of the tree beside the rooftop were no longer attractive to Orange-bellied Leafbird. Mrs. Shàng and I drove to Sānyà Airport. Our plane was delayed for more than three hours because of Spring Festival traffic. I arrived in Shanghai in the wee hours of Monday morning.
Camera: Nikon D3S
Lens: Nikon VR 600mm F/4G
Binoculars: Swarovski EL 8 x 32
In my backpack: Birds of Southeast Asia, by Craig Robson. In my hotel room: A Field Guide to the Birds of China, by John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps
Featured image: Sunset, Jianfengling National Forest Park, Hainan, China, 7 Feb. 2013. (Craig Brelsford)