Greater Painted-snipe at Nanhui

I birded 10-14 Aug. 2017 with visiting U.S. birder Bob Orenstein. We noted 107 species at coastal sites in Shanghai and southeastern Jiangsu. At Pudong’s Cape Nanhui on 13 Aug., Bob and I had a rare Shanghai record of Greater Painted-snipe (above) and an early record of Mandarin Duck. On 12 Aug. at Dongling (32.224520, 121.534355), an impressive site that I had never birded, we had critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 2605 endangered Great Knot. We saw 4 Nordmann’s Greenshank at Dongling and had 30 members of that endangered species 11 Aug. at the coastal birding area (32.757056, 120.952294) at Dongtai. We noted Himalayan Swiftlet at Dongling as well as on 10 Aug. at Cape Nanhui, where we also had Amur Paradise Flycatcher.

Dongling is only 185 km north of People’s Square in Shanghai, closer than the declining old hot spot of Yangkou (“Rudong”) and the Dongtai coastal areas. Through a steady rain 12 Aug., Bob and I found high-tide roosts containing seas of Great Knot plus a single lonely Spoon-billed Sandpiper in complete winter plumage.

Seeing so many Great Knot was extremely heartening. In stark contrast, however, was endangered Far Eastern Curlew, of which only 5 were noted. Unlike near-threatened Eurasian Curlew (130), which though not abundant at Dongling numbered in the thousands at coastal Dongtai, Far Eastern Curlew were abundant nowhere.

On 11 Aug. Bob and I birded the reclaimed area of eastern Hengsha Island. The place was a bustle of activity, even at 5:15 in the morning, with 18-wheelers and dump trucks rumbling by. Security was tight. Guards were stationed at every intersection and in roving vans, one of which stopped us. We told them our purpose was birding; they told us to leave.

Before getting kicked out, Bob and I enjoyed one of my best moments ever with near-threatened Reed Parrotbill. A mega-flock of about 50 birds, much larger than the flocks one sees in the smaller, and ever-shrinking, reedy areas at Cape Nanhui, was making a loud noise during a morning feed. The flock contained juveniles and adults and proved that, provided it has habitat in which to flourish, Reed Parrotbill is a common, even dominant, reed-bed specialist.

I sound-recorded the raucous parrotbills:

Reed Parrotbill, 31.307498, 121.895095, 11 Aug. 2017 (02:39; 30.7 MB)

Let’s look more closely at some of our birds.

Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis

Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 13 Aug. 2017. Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, China.
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis. We found the birds in a canal at Cape Nanhui, where they likely are breeding.

​With the help of local Chinese birders, Bob and I found a pair of Greater Painted-snipe in a thickly vegetated, trash-strewn canal. The shy birds were aware of our presence and nervous, but they held their ground. That behavior, in combination with a photo another Chinese birder took suggesting that the male is brooding, persuaded us that the pair has a nest. We moved quickly away and did not return.

Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer

Footage I got 11 Aug. at Dongtai figures prominently in this video I made comparing Nordmann’s Greenshank to Common Greenshank.

To further hone your Nordmann’s Greenshank ID skills, and to relive the exciting appearance in 2016 of Nordmann’s Greenshank in Shanghai, see my post, Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer!

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

Great Knot was the star of this four-wader movie I made at Dongling.

Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala

The video below records one of my closest encounters ever with “Swintail” Snipe. I found this individual 14 Aug. at the sod farm (31.103100, 121.829300) south of Pudong International Airport.

The video shows some of the characters distinguishing this species pair from Common Snipe. (The two species themselves are, except in extraordinary circumstances, indistinguishable from one another.)

As the autumn migration season progresses, the sod farm bears checking; on 3 Sept. 2016 at the farm, my partners and I had a rare Shanghai record of Common Ringed Plover.

​The video of the snipe as well as the other two videos embedded into this post were made with my combination of iPhone 6 plus PhoneSkope adapter plus Swarovski ATX-95. This powerful combination allows the videographer to shoot usable video from a great distance, allowing even a shy snipe to act naturally. (I never got closer than 40 m to the snipe.)

Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei

Amur Para Fly
Amur Paradise Flycatcher, Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635), 10 Aug. Among the indicators of Amur are the rufous upperparts and tail as well as the indistinct border between breast and belly. (Craig Brelsford)

It was an exciting moment 10 Aug. when Amur Paradise Flycatcher appeared in Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). In the photo above, note the indistinct border between the bluish hood and white belly and the two-tone coloration of the hood–darker blue head, lighter blue breast. In Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, the hood tends to be uniformly colored and the border between the hood and white breast more distinct.

With this year’s fall migration season getting into full swing, paradise flycatchers are going to be moving through Shanghai, and you may wish to improve your skills. For more on separating Amur Paradise Flycatcher from Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, see my post from 2016, “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.”

Cuculus sp.

Adults and some juveniles are now moving through Shanghai. In a few weeks, nearly all adult Cuculus cuckoos will be gone, and we will be left with the juveniles. Cuckoos do not sing in autumn, and song of course is by far the best way of distinguishing among the Cuculus cuckoos of our region. I therefore almost invariably mark these silent birds “Cuculus sp.”

Let us say I assigned these silent cuckoos to Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Perhaps they were the size of a sparrowhawk (ruling out thrush-sized Lesser Cuckoo C. poliocephalus), and perhaps they even had yellow irides (ruling out dark-eyed Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus and providing yet more evidence against dark-eyed Lesser Cuckoo).

Even if my cuckoos passed these tests, unless they were singing the classic song (virtually unheard this time of year), how could I justify ID-ing them as Common? It is, of course, likely that some of them are Common, but how can one be sure that any given silent Cuculus cuckoo one is seeing is Common?

I refrain from making speculative species assignments. I refrain because we still do not know enough about the migration patterns in Shanghai of Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus and Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus.

Like so many of the woodland passerines that pass through Shanghai on migration, Oriental Cuckoo breeds in northeastern China. Like those woodland passerines, Oriental Cuckoo also may pass through Shanghai on migration. Oriental, of course, is very similar to Common, the two species having so many overlapping characters that a firm ID of non-photographed, non-singing birds is all but impossible; and Himalayan, which theoretically may be present in or near our region, is even more similar to Oriental (“virtually identical”—Mark Brazil, Birds of East Asia, p. 256).

In Shanghai it may be tempting to assign silent Cuculus cuckoos, particularly yellow-eyed adults, to Common Cuckoo. Before I ever started doing that, though, I would want to know more about Oriental Cuckoo and Himalayan Cuckoo in the Shanghai region. Maybe future studies, using captured cuckoos whose DNA has been analyzed, will reveal a surprising pattern of Cuculus migration in Shanghai. Maybe those studies will show that considerable numbers of Cuculus passage migrants are Oriental Cuckoo.

Until that day comes, I usually hold back from ID-ing non-singing Cuculus cuckoos.

For more information on Shanghai-area cuckoos, see my post, “The Cuckoos of Shanghai.”

Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris

Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 10 Aug. 2017. Near Cathedral of Birding at N end of Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, China.
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris. Near Cathedral of Birding at north end of Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, 10 Aug. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

​After being nearly unheard of in Shanghai as recently as a few years ago, Himalayan Swiftlet is now more and more regularly recorded in Shanghai in both spring and autumn.

Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.

The question arises of whether Himalayan Swiftlet has always been a scarce passage migrant and overlooked or whether its numbers are increasing in our area. It is of course also possible that both its numbers are increasing in our area and local birders’ skills and communication methods are improving.

That communication methods are improving is indisputable. One of the main causes of the improved communication is the WeChat group I founded, Shanghai Birding. The members of that group, who range from the newest of newbies to some of the most expert birders in China, regularly exchange sightings in real-time.

To join Shanghai Birding, friend me on WeChat (WeChat ID: craigbrelsford). Tell me that you wish to join Shanghai Birding. I’ll add you.

Here is the complete list of the birds noted by Bob Orenstein and me 10-14 Aug. 2017:

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata
Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Cinnamon Bittern I. cinnamomeus
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron A. purpurea
Great Egret A. alba
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Pacific Golden Plover P. fulva
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Black-tailed Godwit L. limosa
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red Knot C. canutus
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta
Spoon-billed Sandpiper C. pygmea
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis
Sanderling C. alba
Dunlin C. alpina
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus
Common Greenshank T. nebularia
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola
Common Redshank T. totanus
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi
Black-headed Gull C. ridibundus
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris
Little Tern Sternula albifrons
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
Spotted Dove S. chinensis
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Cuculus sp.
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach
Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula
Pale Martin Riparia diluta
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus
Japanese Tit Parus minor
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria

The Crane and the Owl: 2015 Year in Review

For Elaine and me, 2015 was the Year of the Crane and the Owl. This post is the story of our amazing year.

2015 was a year that saw us note 640 species of bird in Asia and North America. It was a year that saw us find 450 species in China, 305 species in the Shanghai region, and 227 species within the boundaries of Earth’s largest city.

It was a year in which, on 21 Jan., Elaine and I got married in the house in Heilongjiang in which she was born.

Days after our wedding, at my parents’ house in Florida in the United States, a pair of Sandhill Crane walked through my parents’ back yard. Throughout our weeks in Florida, they came again and again; the cranes are part of a non-migratory flock that is both fully wild and completely at home in suburban central Florida. No one disturbs them.

Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis, DeBary, Florida, 31 Jan. 2015. These cranes are fully wild yet completely accustomed to life in suburbia. No one disturbs them.
Florida Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pratensis, DeBary, Florida, 31 Jan. 2015. These cranes are fully wild yet completely accustomed to life in suburbia. No one disturbs them.

Elaine was astonished. To her, the cranes came to symbolize all that is good about birding in America.

In August, Elaine and I returned to her home in Heilongjiang. A pair of Eurasian Eagle-Owl came to her village night after night. They hooted from the rooftops of the farm buildings that Elaine’s father built. We saw the owls by day, at the nearby quarry where they had nested.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo at the quarry near Elaine's house in Dawucun, Heilongjiang. Night after night, the hoot of these owls was heard in Elaine's village.
Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo at the quarry near Elaine’s house in Dawucun, Heilongjiang. Night after night, the hoot of these owls was heard in Elaine’s village.

I was astonished. To me, the eagle-owls came to symbolize all that is good about birding in Asia.

In the year in which we were married, Elaine and I visited each other’s hometowns for the first time. At my home, cranes; at Elaine’s, eagle-owls. Forevermore, 2015 will be remembered for the powerful birds that visited our homes. In the Brelsford house, 2015 will go down as the Year of the Crane and the Owl.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, one of many species of bird using my parents' back yard in suburban central Florida, USA.
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, one of many species of bird using my parents’ back yard in suburban central Florida, USA.

WHERE DID WE GO IN 2015?

In China, Elaine and I stayed in the east, taking two major trips to Heilongjiang and neighboring Hulunbeier (Inner Mongolia), two trips to Emeifeng in Fujian, and an eventful five-day trip to Guangxi. We also spent a week in Beijing and Hebei. We birded with Jan-Erik Nilsén, Brian Ivon Jones, and Michael Grunwell, fine birders all.

Michael Grunwell at Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015. A birder as enthusiastic as he is knowledgeable, Michael was our major birding partner in 2015. We went thousands of kilometers together, traveling by air, train, car, and foot to birding locations in five provinces. A teacher by profession, Michael freely distributes his bird knowledge, built up over four decades. Michael introduced us to Emeifeng and proposed the Nonggang Babbler trip. We, in turn, had the pleasure of showing Michael various sites in the Shanghai region after Michael and his family moved to Shanghai from Nanchang in August 2015.
Michael Grunwell at Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015. A birder as enthusiastic as he is knowledgeable, Michael was our major birding partner in 2015. We went thousands of kilometers together, traveling by air, train, car, and foot to birding locations in five provinces. A teacher by profession, Michael freely distributes his bird knowledge, built up over four decades. Michael introduced us to Emeifeng and proposed the Nonggang Babbler trip. We, in turn, had the pleasure of showing Michael various sites in the Shanghai region after Michael and his family moved to Shanghai from Nanchang in August 2015.

In America, I am fortunate to be based in central Florida, one of the finest birding areas in one of the best states in the USA for birding. In Florida, the birding is so good, I take my binoculars even on a quick trip to the grocery store. My parents’ back yard alone attracted dozens of species, and we added more at local parks as well as major reserves such as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Elaine and I also took a 15-day birding honeymoon to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where we birded with noted American birder Chris Feeney.

Sunset, 10 March 2015, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Elaine and I hear a loud, sickening crunch. I wade into the pond and get these powerful images of an American Alligator devouring a Blue Crab.
Sunset, 10 March 2015, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Elaine and I hear a loud, sickening crunch. I wade into the pond and get these powerful images of an American Alligator devouring a Blue Crab.

2015 IN SHANGHAI

The bulk of our year was spent around Shanghai. Our 227 “city” species were noted while compiling two major reports, one covering the spring migration and the other covering the autumn and winter. Trips further afield to places in Jiangsu and Zhejiang brought our Shanghai regional list to 305 species. Accompanying us on many of those trips was Michael Grunwell as well as German birder Kai Pflug and the husband-and-wife team of Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp.

Brown-eared Bulbul, Lesser Yangshan Island, 2 Jan. 2015. A few months after this photo was taken, Elaine and I noted this species in Yangkou, and in December 2015 we once again were noting the species on Lesser Yangshan. In Seoul, which I had the pleasure of visiting in May 2015, Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis is the 'default' bulbul, common and noisy, like Light-vented Bulbul in many Chinese cities. In Shanghai, Brown-eared Bulbul is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor.
Brown-eared Bulbul, Lesser Yangshan Island, 2 Jan. 2015. A few months after this photo was taken, Elaine and I noted this species in Yangkou, and in December 2015 we once again were noting the species on Lesser Yangshan. In Seoul, which I had the pleasure of visiting in May 2015, Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis is the ‘default’ bulbul, common and noisy, like Light-vented Bulbul in many Chinese cities. In Shanghai, Brown-eared Bulbul is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor.

Our springtime expedition in the Shanghai region saw us note 243 species. The autumn-winter report contained 259 species by 31 Dec. Here is what we discovered in 2015 around Shanghai:

— Amid the unremitting transformation of the Jiangsu and Shanghai coast, we found several shorebird species on the brink, among them the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, and the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Other threatened waders noted by us were Grey-tailed Tattler, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Far Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot. Other at-risk coastal species were Oriental Stork, Chinese Egret, Saunders’s Gull, and Reed Parrotbill, as well as the elegant passage migrant Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Long-billed Dowitcher, Rudong County (S of Yangkou), Jiangsu, 24 April 2015.
Long-billed Dowitcher, Rudong County (S of Yangkou), Jiangsu, 24 April 2015.

— The most notable extralimitals were Long-billed Dowitcher south of Yangkou, Black Redstart on Hengsha Island, and Dalmatian Pelican at Dongtai and Nanhui. Other interesting finds were Himalayan Swiftlet and Brown-eared Bulbul at Yangkou, Chestnut-cheeked Starling on Lesser Yangshan Island, and at Nanhui Common Goldeneye, Horned Grebe, Black Bittern, White-bellied Green Pigeon, Japanese Scops Owl, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, Black-collared Starling, and Common Rosefinch

Himalayan Swiftlet, Yangkou, 13 Sept. 2015.
Himalayan Swiftlet, Yangkou, 13 Sept. 2015.

— We noted 14 Emberiza species, among them three threatened species (Yellow-breasted Bunting, Yellow Bunting, and Japanese Reed Bunting), the beautiful Crested Bunting, East Asian favorites Meadow Bunting, Tristram’s Bunting, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Chestnut Bunting, Yellow-browed Bunting, and Yellow-throated Bunting, and Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting, Black-faced Bunting, and Pallas’s Reed Bunting

Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanmincun (near Yangkou), Rudong County, Jiangsu, 12 April 2015. I reported this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). A week later, AWSG told me that the godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years prior!) in Victoria, Australia.
Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanmincun (near Yangkou), Rudong County, Jiangsu, 12 April 2015. I reported this banded godwit to the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). A week later, AWSG told me that the godwit had been banded on 23 June 2009 (nearly 6 years prior!) in Victoria, Australia.

— We noted dozens of East Asian migrants, breeders, and residents, among them Grey-headed Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Oriental Pratincole, Black-tailed Gull, Lesser Cuckoo, Northern Boobook, Oriental Dollarbird, Speckled Piculet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Bull-headed Shrike, Chinese Grey Shrike, Yellow-bellied Tit, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler, Grey-backed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, Brown-headed Thrush, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Rufous-tailed Robin, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, and Red-throated Pipit

Thick-billed Warbler, Yangkou, 16 May 2015.
Thick-billed Warbler, Yangkou, 16 May 2015.

— During two trips to the Tianmu Mountains 250 km SW of Shanghai in Zhejiang, we watched a Crested Bunting sing, found a pair of Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, were encouraged by the many Buffy Laughingthrush, saw Crested Serpent Eagle and Black Eagle, came face-to-face with Koklass Pheasant, and noted more Russet Sparrow than Eurasian Tree Sparrow. We appreciated the strong Indo-Malayan character of the avifauna, as evidenced by classic southern Chinese species such as Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Indochinese Yuhina, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Little Forktail, and White-crowned Forktail

— At Yangkou, we found a reliable site for the elusive Brown-cheeked Rail

Collared Owlet, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.
Collared Owlet, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.

THE TRIPS TO EMEIFENG

In spring 2015, Elaine and I made two trips to Emeifeng in the mountains of northwest Fujian. We noted 103 species. Highlights:

— Finding the five key game birds: Elliot’s Pheasant, Cabot’s Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, as well as the beautiful Chinese Bamboo Partridge

Cabot's Tragopan, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.
Cabot’s Tragopan, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.

— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng

— Closely studying three Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni fokiensis, as well as having close encounters with White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius

Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.
Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015.

— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed Forktail E. schistaceus, White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted Forktail E. maculatus bacatus

— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush

— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream and seeing Pygmy Wren-Babbler along that same stream

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.
Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Emeifeng, 1 May 2015.

— Noting other key south-China species, among them Black Bittern, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Black Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Besra, Collared Owlet, Asian Barred Owlet, Great Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Bay Woodpecker, Grey-chinned Minivet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Sultan Tit, Rufous-faced Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Brown Bush Warbler, Small Niltava, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Black-collared Starling, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Fork-tailed Sunbird, and Orange-bellied Leafbird

MAJOR DISCOVERIES IN HULUNBEIER & HEILONGJIANG

Our explorations in Heilongjiang and Hulunbeier were inspired by the words of John MacKinnon:

Instead of going to the familiar places in China to clock up new additions to life lists, why not get to some remote areas where you have a good chance of finding something new?

– John MacKinnon, A Field Guide to the Birds of China, p. 16

In Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, Elaine and I noted 228 species. We visited the region twice: once in January, a short trip with Brian Ivon Jones; and a longer trip in July with Jan-Erik Nilsén and later Brian. There were also two brief stops in Hohhot in south-central Inner Mongolia.

Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus, the first of many good birds I discovered near Elaine's home village. 20 Jan. 2015.
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus, the first of many good birds I discovered near Elaine’s home village. 20 Jan. 2015.

The January trip to Hulunbeier, the U.K.-sized prefecture in northeast Inner Mongolia, was our introduction to the region. Elaine, Brian, and I experienced cold such as I had never felt before. The lowest temperature we had was -36°C (-33°F). Among our highlights were Northern Hawk-Owl, White-backed Woodpecker, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Great Tit, and Arctic Redpoll.

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Wuerqihan, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 15 Jan. 2015.
Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Wuerqihan, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 15 Jan. 2015.

Elaine and I then traveled to Dawucun, her home village in southeastern Heilongjiang. There, on 21 January 2015, Elaine and I were married. (We worked in some birding that day, noting Common Kestrel behind her house.) I was pleasantly surprised by the good birding around Dawucun. Never walking more than 2 km from Elaine’s house, we noted Rough-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Siberian Accentor, and Eurasian Bullfinch.

Blyth's Pipit Anthus godlewskii near Manzhouli, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 20 July 2015.
Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii near Manzhouli, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 20 July 2015.

In the summer, Elaine and I returned to the region with Jan-Erik. The three of us spent 11-24 July exploring Hulunbeier. We drove our rented Honda CR-V 2533 km, covering the main habitats of Hulunbeier, among them the northern-temperate and taiga forests of the Greater Khingan Range and the arid grasslands around Hulun Lake.

Baikal Bush Warbler, 12 July 2015. Near Genhe, we were driving 60 km/h and in the middle of a conversation. Suddenly Jan-Erik said, 'I just heard Siberian Bush Warbler!' (IOC: Baikal Bush Warbler). I hit the brakes and parked. Within a few seconds, we had our bird. Jan-Erik has sharp ears!
Baikal Bush Warbler, 12 July 2015. Near Genhe, we were driving 60 km/h and in the middle of a conversation. Suddenly Jan-Erik said, ‘I just heard Siberian Bush Warbler!’ (IOC: Baikal Bush Warbler). I hit the brakes and parked. Within a few seconds, we had our bird. Jan-Erik has sharp ears!

Among the 170 species we noted were breeding Scaly-sided Merganser at Yikesama Forest and Swan Goose at the excellent Modamuji wetland. Other highlights: Great Grey Owl and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler at Wuerqihan; Demoiselle Crane, Oriental Plover, and Isabellline Shrike around Hulun Lake; breeding Arctic Warbler near Genhe and at Yikesama; Baikal Bush Warbler near Genhe and at Hanma Reserve; House Sparrow and Blyth’s Pipit at various locations; Hazel Grouse at various locations and Black Grouse at Hanma; nesting Common House Martin in Galaya; flocks of hundreds of Pacific Swift and Common Swift in the towns; banded Red-necked Stint near Modamuji; 5000 Sand Martin and Bearded Reedling at Modamuji; and Pallas’s Reed Bunting ssp. lydiae and Common Starling at Wulannuo’er.

Common Swift, Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia, 21 July 2015.
Common Swift, Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia, 21 July 2015.

Next came two weeks (26 July-8 Aug.) in eastern Heilongjiang with Brian Ivon Jones. The trip began and ended in Jiamusi and took us on a loop through areas along the border with Russia, principally along the Ussuri and Amur rivers. This part of the trip was somewhat of a disappointment, mainly because seas of maize have eaten up hundreds of square kilometers of habitat. Still, we managed to find Oriental Stork in unexpected places such as Tongjiang; at Qixing River we found breeding Red-necked Grebe and noted Red-crowned Crane, White-naped Crane, and Reed Parrotbill (ssp. polivanovi, “Northern Parrotbill”); and at Qindeli Farms we saw Black Woodpecker and Mountain Hare.

Eurasian Woodcock, Honghe Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang, 30 July 2015. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/4, 1/80, ISO 10000.
Eurasian Woodcock, Honghe Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang, 30 July 2015. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/4, 1/80, ISO 10000.

Elaine and I spent 9 Aug. to 8 Sept. at Dawucun. The month at Elaine’s parents’ house was a high point in my birding career and one of the most satisfying moments in my many years in China. The birding was excellent, even in late summer, and even better was combining birding with family. Elaine and I would bird in the morning and afternoon and in the evening have dinner with her parents, sisters, and nieces.

Elaine Du (L) birding with her nieces Lisa Li (C) and Jennifer Jiang, Dawucun, Heilongjiang, 13 Aug. 2015.
Elaine Du (L) birding with her nieces Lisa Li (C) and Jennifer Jiang, Dawucun, Heilongjiang, 13 Aug. 2015.

Elaine and I rediscovered the quiet hills 1.5 km south of her village, and we made a major discovery: Xidaquan National Forest, 9400 hectares of old-growth secondary woodland just 21 km from Dawucun. Xidaquan had never been properly birded before, and the park managers welcomed our research, giving us free admission in return for a list of the species we noted.

Lush vegetation at forest edge, with thickly forested low mountains typical of region in background. Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 2 Sept. 2015.
Lush vegetation at forest edge, with thickly forested low mountains typical of region in background. Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 2 Sept. 2015.

We made 12 visits to Xidaquan and submitted to the managers a list of 91 species noted around the park and Dawucun. Among the highlights were discovering the Eurasian Eagle-Owl while birding with Elaine’s young nieces at the quarry near Dawucun. We found Eurasian Eagle-Owl at two other locations, one of them in Xidaquan, where we also noted Ural Owl and Long-eared Owl. Eastern Crowned Warbler were singing loudly and defending territory deep into August, and Radde’s Warbler were behaving likewise into September.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea amurensis, Xidaquan, 17 Aug. 2015.
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea amurensis, Xidaquan, 17 Aug. 2015.

We regularly noted classic northeast China taxa such as Coal Tit ssp. ater, Eurasian Nuthatch ssp. amurensis, Eurasian Jay ssp. brandtii, Willow Tit ssp. baicalensis, and Marsh Tit ssp. brevirostris. At Xidaquan we saw Mandarin Duck, Asian Stubtail, Thick-billed Warbler, Eurasian Treecreeper, Siberian Thrush, Pale Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, and Long-tailed Rosefinch; in the hills behind Dawucun we had breeding White-throated Rock Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher as well as Northern Goshawk, Chinese Grey Shrike, Grey-backed Thrush, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, and Eurasian Red Squirrel; and in Elaine’s parents’ back garden we had Daurian Starling as well as the regular nighttime visits by the eagle-owls.

Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan, 25 Aug. 2015.
Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan, 25 Aug. 2015.

The hills behind Elaine’s house became like a second home to us. A message I sent on 4 Sept. to the Shanghai Birding WeChat group sums up my mood:

“WISH-YOU-WERE-HERE MOMENT: If crisp fall weather could be bottled up and sold, then today would be the day to harvest it. Brilliant blue sky, cool qiufeng (秋风, ‘autumn breeze’), temp. about 17°C. Speaking of harvests, Elaine and her father are nearby picking Honey Mushroom Armillaria mellea. Elaine just radioed me; she and baba found a mother lode and expect to collect about 8 kg of the tasty fungus. I just now was writing almost literally in the shadow of a White-backed Woodpecker, the largest pied woodpecker and a very inquisitive creature, curious even about the weak playback coming from my iPhone speaker. Before settling down, I startled a Hazel Grouse and heard the laughter of Black Woodpecker. A Pale Thrush gave itself away with its tzzt contact call, then viewed me from a high branch before darting off. … Thank you for waiting me out while I drink my fill of these northern forests. It’s been one of my sweetest China experiences, doing great birding by day and being welcomed by Elaine’s warmhearted family at night. Birding and family! Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, a species commonly noted by Elaine and me at Xidaquan. They were singing and defending territory into September. This photo is from 24 Aug. 2015.
Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, a species commonly noted by Elaine and me at Xidaquan. They were singing and defending territory into September. This photo is from 24 Aug. 2015.

BEIJING & HEBEI IN OCTOBER

Jan-Erik was an excellent tour guide at Nanpu, a coastal site in Hebei and the major wintering site for Relict Gull. Our Swedish friend also introduced us to Miyun, where we noted Greater Spotted Eagle and Long-billed Plover.

We found this wintering Japanese Thrush in Longheng on 20 Dec. 2015.
We found this wintering Japanese Thrush in Longheng on 20 Dec. 2015.

LONGHENG, GUANGXI, HOME OF NONGGANG BABBLER

From 16-21 Dec., Michael, Elaine, and I were in Longheng, Guangxi. We noted 76 species, chief among them Nonggang Babbler. We had White-winged Magpie, savored close nighttime views of Collared Scops Owl, enjoyed views of the elusive Lesser Shortwing, and delighted in southern China favorites Sultan Tit, Buff-breasted Babbler, Streaked Wren-Babbler, and Black-breasted Thrush. Farther afield, driving in our rented Mitsubishi Pajero, we found Large Woodshrike in the heavily wooded valley near Longheng, White-browed Piculet and Chestnut-capped Babbler in the cane fields near Longheng, Slaty-bellied Tesia in a thicket along a farm road, Siberian Rubythroat along a stream near Nonggang village, and Red-headed Trogon, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-throated Babbler, and Pale-footed Bush Warbler near Nonggang National Nature Reserve. Pin-striped Tit-Babbler and Rufescent Prinia were seen at various points, and Crested Bunting were locally abundant on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng.

Bird Species Noted in 2015 by Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du

In 2015, the husband-and-wife team of Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du noted 305 species in the Shanghai region, 450 species in China, and 640 species worldwide.

Shanghai region: 305 (227 in Shanghai Shi)
China: 450
Asia: 451 (includes China list plus Varied Tit, noted by Craig in Seoul)
World: 640 (includes Asia list plus all American species not on Asia list)

Featured image: In 2015, my wife Elaine Du discovered Sandhill Crane (L) at my home in Florida; her new husband, Craig, discovered Eurasian Eagle-Owl (R) at Elaine’s home in Heilongjiang. 2015 was our Year of the Crane and the Owl.