Horned Grebe in Shanghai!

Since returning in September from our two-month Amur River Basin trip, Elaine and I have been birding almost exclusively around Shanghai. On 11 Sept. we started “Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16.” Through last Sunday we have noted 252 species for that report. Sunday brought us two additions to the list: Sand Martin and Slavonian Grebe (IOC calls it Horned Grebe). The 3 Horned Grebe were among an impressive thousand or so birds on Dishui Lake and were joined by 13 Black-necked Grebe, 9 Greater Scaup, and 240 Falcated Duck. In all we noted 58 species on Sunday. On Saturday at Hengsha with Michael Grunwell, rain stunted our efforts a bit, but we managed to note 55 species.

Japanese Thrush, Dishui Lake, Sunday. Turus cardis is a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is most commonly seen in October. This record was our latest ever in Shanghai for the species. On a wet, gloomy morning, the thrush was foraging on the grassy medial strip.
Japanese Thrush, Dishui Lake, Sunday. Turus cardis is a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is most commonly seen in October. This record was our latest ever in Shanghai for the species. On a wet, gloomy morning, the thrush was foraging on the grassy medial strip.

On the road ringing Dishui Lake, Elaine and I got our latest-ever Shanghai record of Japanese Thrush. 25 Eastern Yellow Wagtail ssp. taivana were present on the muddy areas fringing the reed beds. Last year, taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai, an unexpectedly northern record; I and I hope others will be looking for more taivana winter records in the coming months. The Sand Martin were among 50 late Barn Swallow and were flying over the lake behind the Holiday Inn at Nanhui. Among our other Nanhui notables were 170 Tufted Duck on Dishui Lake, 90 Eurasian Spoonbill (no Black-faced Spoonbill noted), 2 Western Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, and 5 Rustic Bunting.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana, Nanhui, Sunday. Look for taivana along the muddy fringes of the reed beds and ponds. Last year taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana, Nanhui, Sunday. Look for taivana along the muddy fringes of the reed beds and ponds. Last year taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai.

At Nanhui, a long wait deep in the reed beds produced no Water Rail/Brown-cheeked Rail, but on Hengsha I got a very quick auditory record. Michael and I had taken a long walk on an unpaved road through excellent reedy habitat and were enjoying a sustained view of a flock of Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Suddenly, the rail cried out, but was not heard again.

Also at that spot, a Jack Snipe blew its cover, remaining visible in flight long enough to reveal its short bill. We viewed Merlin and heard three flocks of Reed Parrotbill.

This Sand Martin was associating with Barn Swallow at Nanhui.
This Sand Martin was associating with Barn Swallow at Nanhui.

Earlier, during a talk with some local crabbers, we were told that beginning next year it’s game over for the reclaimed area at Hengsha–development of the container port will begin. Michael, who had never been to Hengsha before, was much impressed with the site, and concurred with my view that it is one of the top places to bird in Shanghai. The view of some 6000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond only solidified Michael’s opinion. Fearing the worst for Hengsha, we looked longingly and hopefully across the Yangtze to the protected Jiuduansha islands, barely visible.

More views of Horned Grebe. Podiceps auritus has a flatter head than Black-necked Grebe, the peak of the head being well behind the eye. In winter plumage, the black cap is neater than that of Black-necked Grebe, with no bulge on the cheek as with Podiceps nigricollis. Note the whitish spot on the lores here. This individual is an adult.
More views of Horned Grebe. Podiceps auritus has a flatter head than Black-necked Grebe, the peak of the head being well behind the eye. In winter plumage, the black cap is neater than that of Black-necked Grebe, with no bulge on the cheek as with Podiceps nigricollis. Note the whitish spot on the lores here. This individual is an adult.

Rain turned to frozen rain, and we drove slowly on the sea-wall road along the eastern and northern edges of Hengsha. Some salt-marsh habitat remains between the sea wall and the tide line, and there we found 3 Ruddy Shelduck, a welcome bit of color amid the bleakness. Wooded areas on the inland side of the wall produced White’s Thrush and Yellow-throated Bunting.

Dishui Lake should be a part of anyone’s winter Nanhui itinerary. As it’s just a few hundred meters from Line 16 Dishui Lake station, even birders without a car can enjoy a long walk around the circular pond.

Rustic Bunting, Nanhui, Sunday.
Rustic Bunting, Nanhui, Sunday.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 5 Dec. 2015 (54 species)

Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), a small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to birding area at 31.297333, 121.859434. Excellent view of large pond at 31.331804, 121.883224. Cloudy with drizzle turning to steady light rain. Winds SW 3 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:38, sunset 16:51. High 7°C. SAT 05 DEC 2015 07:20-14:00.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 3
Falcated Duck Anas falcata ca. 2000
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 1
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 1
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 30
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 4
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 10
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 8
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 2
Little Egret E. garzetta 30
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 5
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/R. aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 2500
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 30
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 10
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 18
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 30
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 25
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 30
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 20
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 10
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 15
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 5
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 5
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 20
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 6
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

A chipper Elaine Du pauses while searching for Water Rail at Nanhui, Sun. 6 Dec. 2015.
A chipper Elaine Du pauses while searching for Water Rail at Nanhui, Sun. 6 Dec. 2015.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 6 Dec. 2015 (58 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 Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782), Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), the empty blue-roofed building & nearby microforests (30.961368, 121.952136), and Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Mostly cloudy, becoming partly cloudy. Visibility 0-5 km. Sunrise 06:40, sunset 16:51. Low 4°C, high 10°C. SUN 06 DEC 2015 07:30-16:40.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 240
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 40
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 170
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 9
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 70
Horned Grebe P. auritus 3
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 13
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 90
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 40
Great Egret A. alba 16
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 30
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 2
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 220
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 13
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 10
Dunlin Calidris alpina 25
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 5
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 15
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 2
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 50
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 5
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 7
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 7
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 12
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 16
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 25 taivana
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 56
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 7
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 6
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 5
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 2
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 5
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

Featured image: Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus, Dishui Lake, Shanghai, China, 6 Dec. 2015.

98 Species at Top Shanghai Sites

On 28-29 Nov., Elaine and I noted 98 species at three of the Shanghai region’s top sites: Lesser Yangshan Island, Nanhui, and Hengsha Island. On Hengsha Main Pond we noted 3200 Falcated Duck. We noted Water/Brown-cheeked Rail at Nanhui and at Hengsha, and among the hundreds of ducks at Dishui Lake were 10 Greater Scaup as well as 15 Black-necked Grebe. A beautiful jack Merlin was grounded by rain on Hengsha, and another on Nanhui scared up a cloud of rather late Barn Swallow. Verditer Flycatcher resorted to the reeds in the treeless reclaimed area on Hengsha, and on Lesser Yangshan we saw juvenile Lesser Coucal. That tiny island was characteristically thrushy, with Red-throated Thrush and Naumman’s Thrush appearing alongside Dusky Thrush, Pale Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Chinese Blackbird, the latter not commonly seen on Lesser Yangshan.

Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman's Thrush.
Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman’s Thrush. (Craig Brelsford)

The 9000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond were overwhelmingly of just three species: Falcated Duck, Gadwall, and Eurasian Coot, with sprinklings of Mandarin Duck, Common Shelduck, Common Pochard, and Black-necked Grebe. I had never seen so many birds in a single place in Shanghai Shi. The reclaimed area on which the pond sits is under no environmental protection; the area is slated to be turned into a giant container port.

Hengsha Main Pond is in the northwest quadrant of the reclaimed area, hard by the fenced border with Hengsha Island proper. We viewed the pond from the perimeter road, the other side of which contains farms and trees. While scanning and counting, we noted Hair-crested Drongo and Dusky Warbler. Earlier, in the reclaimed area we once again noted Chinese Grey Shrike and a single Water Pipit. We hadn’t seen Intermediate Egret in a while. Robin-like Red-flanked Bluetail were absent from the treeless reclaimed area, but chat-like Daurian Redstart turned into reed-bed specialists; we noted 18.

Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited.
Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited. (Craig Brelsford)

On Saturday Elaine and I were joined by veteran English birder Michael Grunwell. Lesser Yangshan was its typical late-November self, serving up its usual fare of Daurian Redstart, less common delicacies such as Yellow-bellied Tit, and a main course of buntings, this time Meadow Bunting, Little Bunting, Yellow-throated Bunting, and Black-faced Bunting.

The diversity of ducks on Dishui Lake was a welcome surprise. Common Shelduck appeared here as well, and we sifted through the Tufted Duck to find the Greater Scaup. The Mandarin Duck were seen on a pond inside the sea wall and attracted some photographers, who paid little attention to the nearby flock of 800 Kentish Plover.

Mandarin Duck, Nanhui.
Mandarin Duck, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

At Nanhui as well as at Hengsha, we selected places likely to hold Water Rail or Brown-cheeked Rail. There, we played back recordings of Rallus aquaticus. On both occasions, we got a loud call from someplace deep within the reeds, but no appearance. While waiting at Nanhui, we noted a flock of Reed Parrotbill.

We spent Saturday night at Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿; +86 135-0185-1814 and +86 150-2164-5467). For 120 yuan we got a simple double room with bathroom down the hall. Meals are usually available there, but we arrived too late. We had freeze-dried meals with us; they once again proved to be a big asset, allowing us to eat a full meal after a long day birding.

By positioning ourselves on Hengsha the night before we birded, we saved ourselves our typical early wake-up in the city and a dash to Changxing Island for the first ferry.

The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. Look for a bend in the road, a gap in the fence, and a broken causeway below. Photo by Elaine Du.
The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. (Elaine Du)
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui.
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye.
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: While Craig Brelsford consults Collins Bird Guide, Michael Grunwell uses Craig’s Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope to view Greater Scaup. Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 28 Nov. 2015. (Elaine Du)

72 Species on Hengsha

Highlights from our 72-species day at Hengsha, Sun. 25 Oct. 2015: a lone Black-faced Spoonbill associating with 2 Eurasian Spoonbill, Chinese Grey Shrike, Red-throated Thrush, 2 Common Starling among White-cheeked Starling, and Bull-headed Shrike dining on grasshopper. Ducks: Eastern Spot-billed Duck 270, Eurasian Teal 55, Northern Shoveler 3. Also Eurasian Coot 280, Common Snipe 28, Ruddy Turnstone 1, Chinese Penduline Tit 75, Richard’s Pipit 25.

Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together I: Black-faced Spoonbill with Eurasian Spoonbill.
Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together I: Black-faced Spoonbill with Eurasian Spoonbill. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine and I recorded only 1 bunting all day: a single Chestnut-eared Bunting. Hengsha was bunting central last autumn, and almost exactly a year ago Elaine and I had seven Emberiza species in a single morning on Temple Mount on Lesser Yangshan.

Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together II: Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling.
Birds Not of a Feather Sticking Together II: Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling. (Craig Brelsford)

In the past year, Elaine and I have seen Common Starling with White-cheeked Starling on three occasions in three widely separated locations. On 8 Nov. 2014 at Sì Hé Cūn (四合村) near Lake Poyang in Jiangxi, we found 80 Common Starling among 160 White-cheeked Starling; on 23 July 2015 at Wūlánnuò’ěr (乌兰诺尔) near Hulun Lake in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, we found 1 Common Starling among 15 White-cheeked Starling; and now this latest sighting. Common Starling is well-known to birders in Europe and North America (where it is an introduced species), and it is common in parts of western China, but in eastern China it is supposedly only a vagrant.

Beautiful 'Red-bellied Rock Thrush' Monticola solitarius philippensis, ssp. of Blue Rock Thrush. The species is locally common at coastal sites around Shanghai. It prefers rocky areas but can make do with concrete breakers set up along the shore. Here a female is perching atop an outhouse.
Beautiful ‘Red-bellied Rock Thrush’ Monticola solitarius philippensis, ssp. of Blue Rock Thrush. The species is locally common at coastal sites around Shanghai. It prefers rocky areas but can make do with concrete breakers set up along the shore. Here a female is perching atop an outhouse. (Craig Brelsford)
Elaine and I spent our final hour on Hengsha snipe watching. High-speed photography of flying snipe not only is pleasurable but also can be an aid to identification, as the camera captures details that the eye can miss. This is Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Nikon D3S, 600 mm + 1.4x TC, F8, 1/5000, ISO 12800 (that is correct: twelve thousand eight hundred!). Camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod.
Elaine and I spent our final hour on Hengsha snipe watching. High-speed photography of flying snipe not only is pleasurable but also can be an aid to identification, as the camera captures details that the eye can miss. This is Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Nikon D3S, 600 mm + 1.4x TC, F8, 1/5000, ISO 12800 (that is correct: twelve thousand eight hundred!). Camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod. (Craig Brelsford)

Hengsha is complicated to get to, and the reclaimed land where birders go lacks trees and thus forest birds. If it had even the microforests of Nanhui, then our total of 72 species might have been 80 to 90, and if in addition even a small part of the giant project were run as a nature reserve, then the list might have topped 100! Still, a day at Hengsha may be the single most interesting birding day available in Shanghai. The place has a remote, even wild feel, and the air is fresh.

Featured image: Elaine Du viewing birds on Hengsha Island. In the top-left corner of the image, the three white dots are 1 Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor associating with 2 Eurasian Spoonbill P. leucorodia.