A Rare Look at salangensis Ashy Drongo

Editor’s note: Each spring and autumn, Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus migrates through Shanghai. Race leucogenis breeds close to the Shanghai region and is the subspecies most commonly seen in Shanghai. The recent appearance at Nanhui of ssp. salangensis (pictured above) raises the question of exactly how numerous that central Chinese subspecies is on the Shanghai coast.

How dark was that migrating Ashy Drongo you just saw? You may want to pay attention, because the dark-grey central Chinese ssp. salangensis has been spotted at Cape Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Shanghai. In this post, I lay out the identification criteria for salangensis and the paler, more common ssp. leucogenis. My theory is that salangensis appears at some higher rate in Shanghai than has historically been recorded, which until recently has been not at all. An opportunity to fine-tune our understanding awaits us!

SEPARATING THE SUBSPECIES

Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus. All photos by Craig Brelsford except 3a (by Kai Pflug ).
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus. 1, 2b: D. l. leucogenis, Laoshan (32.071265, 118.560699), 4 July 2009. Laoshan, a site in Nanjing, Jiangsu 290 km inland from Shanghai, is a breeding area for D. l. leucogenis. 2a, 4: D. l. salangensis, Nanhui, Shanghai, 15 Oct. 2016. 3a: likely D. l. salangensis, Nanhui, September 2016. 3b: D. l. leucogenis, Dongzhai National Nature Reserve, Henan, 1 June 2010. All photos by Craig Brelsford except 3a (by Kai Pflug).

Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus comprises 15 races, of which two are known in the Shanghai region: D. l. leucogenis and D. l. salangensis. D. l. leucogenis, the pale eastern race, is the more common migrant. D. l. salangensis is the darker race and is a vagrant to Shanghai.

A classic leucogenis (panels 1, 2b, 3b) is easy to distinguish from salangensis (2a, 4). A typical leucogenis is pale grey and shows a large white oval patch around the eye. D. l. salangensis is much darker, and its facial patch is reduced and less well defined. Both have a red iris.

Ashy Drongo not only has many races but also shows color variation within each race. The photos here were taken 1 June 2010 at Dongzhai, Henan. The drongo in Panel 1 is a classic pale leucogenis, and the drongo in panels 2 and 3 shows a slaty tone to the upperparts and underparts--though it too is most likely leucogenis.
Ashy Drongo not only has many races but also can show considerable color variation within each race. The drongos shown here were photographed within a few hundred meters of each other on 1 June 2010 at Dongzhai. The drongo in Panel 1 is a classic pale leucogenis. The drongo in panels 2 and 3 is a very different-looking bird, with a noticeable greyish-blue tone. (Craig Brelsford)

Intermediate forms (3a) are trickier. They may be purebreds showing random color variation or hybrids. The breeding ranges of leucogenis and salangensis partly overlap, with salangensis breeding in south-central China (mainly or exclusively south of the Yangtze River) and leucogenis breeding over a broad swath of eastern and central China from Sichuan east to Shandong and as far south as Guangdong.

Many thanks to Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez. Martinez lives in Shenzhen and is an expert on the birds of southeast China. He was the first to point out that the photos of Ashy Drongo being posted on the Shanghai Birding WeChat group were of salangensis. He also was instrumental in our identification of the melanistic form of Long-tailed Shrike, discussed below. Thanks also to Paul Holt, who offered his opinion on the breeding range of leucogenis, and to Kai Pflug, for yet another useful photo.

103 SPECIES ON 15-16 OCT. 2016

Long-tailed Shrike dusky morph, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016.
Dusky Long-tailed Shrike, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016. Note that Dusky is not a subspecies but a color morph within Lanius schach schach, the same taxon found in Shanghai. The melanistic morph, however, is rare in Shanghai. Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez reports that the form is ‘common’ in Guangdong, where the French birder resides. Martinez writes, ‘I’ve seen them in Jiangxi, Fujian, and coastal Guangxi. A bird turning up in Shanghai could be evidence of short-distance movements.’ (Craig Brelsford)

Partnering with visiting U.S. birder Bryce Harrison, Elaine Du and I noted 103 species over the weekend of Sat. 15 Oct. and Sun. 16 Oct. 2016. We covered the three main birding areas in Shanghai: Nanhui, eastern Chongming Island, and the reclaimed areas of Hengsha Island.

At Nanhui on Saturday we found Nordmann’s Greenshank, 24 Black-faced Spoonbill, 4 Mandarin Duck, and the Ashy Drongo. On Sunday on Hengsha we found a dark-morph Long-tailed Shrike, rare in Shanghai.

Black-faced Spoonbill (L) and Eurasian Spoonbill, Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016. In the Shanghai region, the two species often are found together.
Black-faced Spoonbill (L) and Eurasian Spoonbill, Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016. In the Shanghai region, the two species often are found together. Though not under quite as much pressure as Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Platalea minor is nonetheless listed by the IUCN as endangered. Throughout the winter, Black-faced Spoonbill are consistently seen at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

Nanhui also gave us Japanese Quail, Purple Heron, 6 Eurasian Spoonbill, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, and a Eurasian Woodcock at the Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551). We must have stumbled blindly past the well-camouflaged woodcock half a dozen times before finally flushing it. Also 4 Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, 2 Asian Stubtail, 2 first-of-season Red-flanked Bluetail, 2 Japanese Thrush, and 3 Eyebrowed Thrush.

Hengsha yielded Striated Heron, Pied Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Merlin, 9 Black-browed Reed Warbler, and our season’s first taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

Japanese Quail with ever-present backhoes in the background. Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016.
Japanese Quail with ever-present backhoes in background. Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We found Eurasian Wryneck at Nanhui and on Hengsha and Bull-headed Shrike and Yellow-bellied Tit at Nanhui and on Chongming.

Nordmann’s Greenshank was roosting at nearly the same spot (30.920549, 121.963247) as a month ago. The endangered bird was among many Common Greenshank, allowing us to appreciate the former’s more obviously bi-colored bill, shorter legs, and more hunched appearance. The bird clearly stood out from among its Common cousins. For more on Nordmann’s ID, please see our Sept. 18 post, Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer.

The Black-faced Spoonbill were just a few hundred meters from the Nordmann’s in the defunct nature reserve. Poignantly, the spoonbills were roosting near the decrepit old sign introducing Platalea minor to the world.

UPDATES TO RECENT POSTS

This post has made waves among lovers of leaf warblers.This post has made waves among lovers of leaf warblers.
This post is making waves among leaf-warbler lovers.

My post of 26 Sept. 2016, “Pale-legged Leaf Warbler & the Shanghai Big 5,” has attracted the attention of Philip Round, one of the world’s foremost experts on Asian leaf warblers. I have written an addendum with an excerpt from an illuminating e-mail sent to me by Dr. Round. In it, he talks about the difficulties, some insurmountable, some not, in distinguishing Pale-legged Leaf Warbler from Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. In the republished post, scroll down to the section headed “UPDATE: 19 OCT. 2016.”

These photos are of a confirmed Amur female.
Amur female, Laoshan. (Craig Brelsford)

I have added two photos to the post of 10 Oct. 2016, “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.” The photos show a female Amur Paradise Flycatcher on its breeding grounds in Nanjing, Jiangsu. You now have another opportunity to study the photos of a confirmed Amur female. Compare that Amur with the migrating paradise flycatchers you find in the Shanghai area for an airtight ID. Scroll down to “UPDATE: 18 OCT. 2016.”

PHOTOS

Bull-headed Shrike, Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016.
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus bucephalus, Nanhui. Outside the breeding season, the pale base to the lower mandible (inset) is present on both sexes of the nominate subspecies. This is an adult female. Note the lack of a black facial mask and the striking rusty-orange coloration. The nominate race breeds in northeast China, the Russian Far East and adjacent islands, Korea, and Japan and is a passage migrant in Shanghai. A little-known western subspecies, sicarius, breeds in Gansu and lacks the pale base to the lower mandible. (Craig Brelsford)
Pied Harrier, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016.
Pied Harrier, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016. This is an adult female. (Craig Brelsford)
Eurasian Hobby eating on the wing, Chongming Island, 16 Oct. 2016.
Juvenile Eurasian Hobby dining on the wing, Chongming Island, 16 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
This line of trees wedged between two housing complexes holds many wild birds. On 17 Oct. 2016, I found Oriental Magpie-Robin and Japanese Tit, and on 14 Oct. I found a flock of Japanese White-eye.
This line of trees (31.216753, 121.408195) is wedged between two housing complexes near my apartment in Changning District, Shanghai. Deep in the bowels of Earth’s largest city, this spot is as urban as urban can be. The trees, however, are tall and provide a large surface area for wild birds. On 17 Oct. 2016, I found Oriental Magpie-Robin and Japanese Tit there, and on 14 Oct. I found a fast-moving flock of Japanese White-eye. Chinese Blackbird breed in the area, and Siberian Weasel have been noted in the vicinity. (Craig Brelsford)

WORKS CONSULTED

Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
You too can join Shanghai Birding.

Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. Quotations from Jonathan Martinez and Paul Holt taken from this chat group.

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Entry on Ashy Drongo, p. 300. Brazil’s opus grows weaker as the distance from Japan (his base) of the birds he is covering grows longer. Brazil offers no information on D. l. salangensis on the east coast of China.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 14, “Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows.” Entry for Ashy Drongo (p. 220) written by G.J. Rocamora and D. Yeatman-Berthelot. The authors have “N Gansu” as the northwestern limit of the breeding range of D. l. leucogenis. Is that likely? See also Paul Holt’s misgivings in MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps, below.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 13, “Penduline-tits to Shrikes.” Entry for Bull-headed Shrike (pp. 775-6) written by Masaoki Takagi. Long-tailed Shrike (p. 781) by Anton Krištín.

Ferguson-Lees, James & David A. Christie. Raptors of the World. Princeton Field Guides. Entries on Pied Harrier, Hen Harrier, and Eastern Marsh Harrier.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Entry on Ashy Drongo, pp. 281-2. MacKinnon has breeding range of D. l. leucogenis stretching to Heilongjiang. Paul Holt (Shanghai Birding WeChat group) disagrees, saying the northeastern limit is more likely Shandong. Holt writes: “I think that the weakest aspect of John MacKinnon’s ground-breaking field guide are the ranges, and again I don’t think HBW’s accurate on that front either. I’d discount Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, and Hebei from the breeding range of leucogenis Ashy Drongo and don’t believe that it can breed further north than Shandong (where it might not even occur) and southernmost Shanxi.”

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Ashy Drongo, p. 176.

Asian Dowitcher Leads Shanghai Spring-Mig Birding Pageant!

On 21-24 April 2016, teaming up with Jan-Erik Nilsén and Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du and I noted 110 species. Our birding ranged from the inner city of Shanghai (Zhongshan Park, Century Park) to the coast at Cape Nanhui. The highlight of this spring-mig bird pageant was Asian Dowitcher at Nanhui. The dowitcher was in a pool that also held 11 Chinese Egret. Nanhui also gave us endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Far Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot and near-threatened Red Knot and Curlew Sandpiper. Among the other uncommon to scarce passage migrants were 4 Greater Sand Plover, 2 Pechora Pipit, 4 Brown-headed Thrush, 2 Siberian Blue Robin, 3 Siberian Rubythroat, and Citrine Wagtail. Joining them were 5 Terek Sandpiper, 3 Temminck’s Stint, 12 Long-toed Stint, 3 Eurasian Wryneck, 2 Eastern Crowned Warbler, 4 Japanese Thrush, 2 Eyebrowed Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher, 2 Blue-and-white Flycatcher, macronyx Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and 3 Tristram’s Bunting. We had impressive numbers (ca. 3180) of Barn Swallow, and picking through the clouds of hirundines we coaxed out 3 Pale/Sand Martin and 4 Red-rumped Swallow. Near-threatened Marsh Grassbird were singing in the reed bed at 30.866006, 121.939614. Near the grassbirds were Brown Crake, Reed Parrotbill, and Oriental Reed Warbler. A quick trip to Zhongshan Park on Thursday netted Narcissus Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and at Century Park on Friday we had Indian Cuckoo.

Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. The prominent wing bars, distinct stripes on mantle, and contrasting buffish breast and whitish belly are readily visible in my photos.
Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. The prominent wing bars, distinct stripes on mantle, and contrasting buffish breast and whitish belly are readily visible in my photos. (Craig Brelsford)

A Swede based in Beijing, Jan-Erik is an experienced birder and a friend. I have partnered with Jan-Erik in Qinghai (2014) and in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia (2015). Last year he introduced me to the Beijing-area birding hot spots.

Among Jan-Erik’s many strengths is his ear. When the rain finally let up on Sunday, Jan-Erik and I were walking between microforests on the Nanhui sea wall. “Pechora Pipit!” Jan-Erik cried. On a windy day, Jan-Erik’s sensitive ear had detected the hard, clicking call of a distant Pechora. I missed this one, but my adrenaline was running, and I ran back to our rented Buick, driven by Elaine. I put together my 600 mm lens and Nikon D3S, which had lain dormant throughout the rainy Saturday and Sunday morning. “Record-shot time!” I said to my wife. Almost as soon as I had set up my camera, I found another Pechora atop a tree. I had not seen Pechora Pipit since 2010. Jan-Erik’s strong hearing skills made the rare view possible.

Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. This is quite a different bird from Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Note the dagger-like orange bill and blue-grey lores.
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. This is quite a different bird from Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Note the dagger-like orange bill and blue-grey lores. (Craig Brelsford)

The teamwork continued later that day. At the dowitcher spot (30.877779, 121.955465), Elaine, using the spotting scope and scanning the pond below us, cried out, “Dowitcher! Maybe Asian!” Elaine had never seen Asian Dowitcher, but Michael Grunwell’s fascination with this bird had prepared Elaine for the possibility of encountering the species. Jan-Erik and I ran back, and I enjoyed my first-ever views of the near-threatened species. Great spot, Elaine!

My two greatest birding mentors, Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén (R), photographed with me by my greatest birding partner, Elaine Du. Dishui Lake Metro Station, Shanghai, 23 April 2016.
My two greatest birding mentors, Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén (R), photographed with me by my greatest birding partner, Elaine Du. Dishui Lake Metro Station, Shanghai, 23 April 2016. (Elaine Du)

Jan-Erik arrived late Thursday night. On Friday we did light birding at Century, noting 29 species. On Saturday and Sunday I had the pleasure of introducing Jan-Erik to Nanhui. We noted 99 species over the weekend, and we had the added pleasure of having Michael Grunwell join us Saturday. Despite the rain, I have rarely been happier birding than I was Saturday, for on that day the two birders who have taught me the most were finally in the same car together. Michael is a British birder who has been living in Shanghai since last year.

The bad weather kept us off Lesser Yangshan Island and dashed our hopes of visiting Hengsha Island. As darkness fell Saturday, we drove Michael to the Dishui Lake Metro Station. Jan-Erik, Elaine, and I spent the night at the Holiday Inn at Nanhui. This proved to be a good move, for staying at Nanhui saved me a 90-km drive back to the city after an exhausting day and put us in position for an early start Sunday. A sea-view room cost 500 yuan, money we considered well-invested.

PHOTOS

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 2 May 2014. Elaine and I noted our seasonal-first Yellow-rumped at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai, on 21 April 2016. An East Asian favorite, Ficedula zanthopygia breeds in China from Heilongjiang south to Jiangsu. The male is beautiful.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 2 May 2014. Elaine and I noted our seasonal-first Yellow-rumped at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai, on 21 April 2016. An East Asian favorite, Ficedula zanthopygia breeds in China from Heilongjiang south to Jiangsu. The male is beautiful. (Craig Brelsford)
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Tristram's Bunting, Lesser Yangshan Island, 25 April 2013. Emberiza tristrami breeds in forests, and its preference for that sort of habitat is evident even on migration in places such as Shanghai. The species can be numerous in April in heavily forested urban parks such as Century, where we noted 11 individuals on 22 April 2016.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Tristram’s Bunting, Lesser Yangshan Island, 25 April 2013. Emberiza tristrami breeds in forests, and its preference for that sort of habitat is evident even on migration in places such as Shanghai. The species can be numerous in April in heavily forested urban parks such as Century, where we noted 11 individuals on 22 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Temminck's Stint, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 19 Sept. 2012. Calidris temminckii is a loner and prefers freshwater habitats. It is a passage migrant in the Shanghai region, and there are winter records. We noted 3 on 23 April 2016 at Nanhui, Shanghai.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Temminck’s Stint, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 19 Sept. 2012. Calidris temminckii is a loner and prefers freshwater habitats. It is a passage migrant in the Shanghai region, and there are winter records. We noted 3 on 23 April 2016 at Nanhui, Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)
Brown-headed Thrush with (in top L panel) Eyebrowed Thrush and Black-faced Bunting. Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016.
Brown-headed Thrush with (in top L panel) Eyebrowed Thrush and Black-faced Bunting. Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Siberian Rubythroat, Nanhui, 24 April 2016.
Siberian Rubythroat, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 24 April 2016 (79 species)

Birds noted 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 along Shijitang Road from 31.000204, 121.938145 S to 30.851114, 121.848527. Rainy in morning, then cloudy. Low 13° C, high 17° C. Wind ENE 21 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 139 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:15, sunset 18:29. SUN 24 APR 2016 05:45-13:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 17
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 11
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 4
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 5
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Lesser/Greater Sand Plover C. mongolous/leschenaultii 5
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 1
Common Snipe G. gallinago 15
Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 10
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 2
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 4
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 30
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 15
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 8
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 1
Red Knot C. canutus 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 60
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 4
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 5
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 1
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 14
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 3
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 5
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 3000
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 3
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 20 singing
Marsh Grassbird Helopsaltes pryeri 3 singing
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 50
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 10
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 8
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 10
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 4
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 3
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 2
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 3
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 100 (60 tschutschensis, 10 taivana, 1 macronyx)
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 2
White Wagtail M. alba 5 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5
Pechora Pipit A. gustavi 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 3
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata 3
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 40
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2

Featured image: Asian Dowitcher, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016. Listed as near-threatened by the IUCN, Limnodromus semipalmatus breeds in Siberia, Mongolia, and Heilongjiang and occurs on passage in the Shanghai area. (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.

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.
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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 3 April 2016 (57 species)

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.

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]; 31.510109, 121.961955), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China. Includes birds noted along unnamed road running parallel to canal at base of eastern sea wall, in particular a spot called Snipe Corner (31.479537, 121.937001), as well as the canal-pond at inner base of northeastern sea wall, in particular the site at 31.555579, 121.942261. Light rain & showers; low 11° C, high 15° C. Wind NNW 15 km/h. Visibility 100 m (a.m.), 3 km (p.m.). PM2.5 AQI: 119 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:39, sunset 18:16. SUN 03 APR 2016 06:50-16:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 7
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 14
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 8
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 10
Greater Scaup A. marila 2
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 15
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 6
Great Egret A. alba 8
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 18
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 4
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 400
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 24
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 1
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 4
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 22
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 5
Common Redshank T. totanus 16
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 4
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 9
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Vega Gull Larus vegae 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 30
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 2 (nesting pair)
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark A. arvensis/gulgula 50
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 4
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 54
Phylloscopus sp. 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 6
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 100
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 4
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 11
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 450
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 14
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 1
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 8
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 38
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 3

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 4 April 2016 (73 species)

Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016.
Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016.

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Shanghai, China. List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) and Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489). Sunny; low 9° C, high 17° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind ENE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 91 (moderate). Sunrise 05:38, sunset 18:16. SUN 04 APR 2016 09:00-17:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 26
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 15
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 3
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 10
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 2 booming
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Accipiter sp. 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 10
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 50
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 12
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 8
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 8
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 1
Common Snipe G. gallinago 15
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 2
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 3
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 9
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 8
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 6
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 4
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 212
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 1
Dunlin C. alpina 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Saunders’s Gull C. saundersi 10
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 13
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus 10
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 7
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 1
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 1
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1 singing
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 10
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 80
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 18
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 25
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 26
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 28
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 4
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 8
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 3
White Wagtail M. alba 12 (1 lugens)
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 5
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 11
Little Bunting E. pusilla 20
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 1
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 8
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 90

Mammals

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1

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. Photo by 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.

It’s April! Here’s What to Expect

It’s April now and the sweet spot of migration season is about to be hit. In the Shanghai region, April and May are the two very best months, with the four weeks between 15 April and 15 May being the best time of all.

Here is a list of interesting birds that Elaine Du and I were finding last year around this time.

Japanese Reed Bunting seen on Chongming on 29 March 2015.

Japanese Reed Bunting, Chongming, 29 March 2015.
Japanese Reed Bunting, Chongming, 29 March 2015.

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler was singing and defending territory on Lesser Yangshan Island last 9 April.

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Lesser Yangshan, 9 April 2015.
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Lesser Yangshan, 9 April 2015.

Bar-tailed Godwit found south of Yangkou on 12 April 2015. The godwit had been flagged in 2009 in Victoria, Australia. Endangered Great Knot found near godwit on 12 April.

I submitted a report of the sighting of this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). On 19 April 2015, I received word back from AWSG. This godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years ago!) off Mann's Beach, Corner Inlet in Victoria, Australia.
I submitted a report of the sighting of this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). On 19 April 2015, I received word back from AWSG. This godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years earlier!) in Victoria, Australia.

Brown-headed Thrush, a scarce passage migrant in Shanghai that breeds in Japan and on Sakhalin, found 9 April 2015 at Nanhui.

Brown-headed Thrush, Nanhui, 9 April 2015.
Brown-headed Thrush, Nanhui, 9 April 2015.

Japanese Thrush was singing and defending territory at Yangkou on 9 April 2015.

Narcissus Flycatcher was recorded by Elaine and me on 5 occasions in spring 2015 between 16 April and 16 May

Black Redstart: vagrant recorded 18 April 2015 on Hengsha Island.

Black Redstart, very uncommon vagrant to Shanghai. Hengsha, 18 April 2015.
Black Redstart, very uncommon vagrant to Shanghai. Hengsha, 18 April 2015.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher: curiously, recorded only once by Elaine and me last spring (19 April, Nanhui)

Siberian Blue Robin: 9 April, Lesser Yangshan

Blue-and-white Flycatcher: recorded on 10 occasions between 12 April and 16 May 2015

Asian Brown Flycatcher had a sustained springtime presence, being recorded on 9 occasions from 9 April to 21 May 2015

Eastern Crowned Warbler: 9 April, Lesser Yangshan

Cuculus sp.: Lesser Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, and Indian Cuckoo more commonly noted in May; we had an early bird, not singing, on Hengsha on 18 April

Grey-headed Lapwing: aggressively defending territory on Chongming on 29 March. Hear their manic cries (01:33; 4.5 MB):

Curlew Sandpiper: near-threatened species first noted by us last year on 23 April at Yangkou

Red-necked Stint: 10 April, Chongming

Terek Sandpiper: 11 April, Yangkou

Last year in the Shanghai region, Elaine and I birded 32 of the 86 days between 29 March and 22 June, noting 243 species. The report we wrote about the experience is called Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2015. Feel free to use our report to get an indication of the birds you can find in springtime in the Shanghai area.

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.