Amid the Din of the Diggers

On Sat. 26 March, Elaine Du and I noted 53 species at Nanhui in southeast Shanghai. Despite air pollution that made my nose run, we enjoyed yet another day of Metro + walk-’n’-bird. We covered 15 km on foot, going camera-less and carrying our Swarovski scope. We took a taxi from the Dishui Lake Metro Line 16 station to Microforest 2 (30.926039, 121.970725). From there we walked back to the station, along the way exploring the reed beds, checking the shore, and scanning Dishui Lake.

Highlights: Falcated Duck 180, Garganey 8, Black-necked Grebe 4 (3 in nearly complete breeding plumage), Eurasian Spoonbill 8, Eurasian Bittern 1, Intermediate Egret 1, Kentish Plover 1, Barn Swallow 4, Reed Parrotbill 27, Naumann’s Thrush 1, Eastern Yellow Wagtail 5 tschutschensis, Richard’s Pipit 8, Buff-bellied Pipit 46, Chestnut-eared Bunting 5, Little Bunting 9 (1 singing), Pallas’s Reed Bunting 70.

In the reeds behind Microforest 2, amid the din of the digging machines that are destroying its home, a Reed Parrotbill was chirring loudly and making sounds reminiscent of babblers. I recorded four types of call:

chirring (00:03; 930 KB)

insistent (00:05; 1 MB)

plaintive (00:04; 958 KB)

joyful (00:20; 1.6 MB)

The transformation of the wetland continues apace. I took a photo showing a former marshy-reedy area, now drained, in which hundreds of a single species of coniferous tree are being planted. In this sector, sightings of Black-faced Spoonbill used to be regular. No more.

INCONGRUOUS: Sign from transformed wetland still stands, despite drainage and planting of hundreds of trees in area where Black-winged Stilt once foraged.
INCONGRUOUS: Sign from transformed wetland still stands, despite drainage and planting of hundreds of trees in area where Black-winged Stilt once foraged. (Craig Brelsford)

We skipped the Magic Parking Lot after a binocular check revealed about 100 cars parked around the lot. More and more locals are using our old birding area, especially on mild spring days such as Saturday.

On Fri. 25 March, Elaine and I viewed the Huangpu River from the Lujiazui side near Oriental Pearl Tower at a place called Binjiang Park (not to be confused with Binjiang Forest Park). Activity was little; we had just a handful of Vega Gull plus Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Egret, and a single Grey Heron as well as singing Chinese Blackbird, resident Light-vented Bulbul, and a leucopsis White Wagtail.

Elaine Du birding Huangpu River from Lujiazui side, 25 March 2016.
Elaine Du birding Huangpu River from Lujiazui side, 25 March 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We met a local bird photographer who said he goes to Lujiazui often. At times, this photographer said, “thousands” of gulls can be seen on the river around Lujiazui-Bund. He said he’d had just such a banner day last week, and he was surprised at the lack of gulls on Friday. This gentleman had photos of Black-tailed Gull as well as many Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus.

BIRD LIFE ON THE BUND: Vega Gull (top L, top R) will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Mallard (bottom L) sometimes appear in Huangpu River. At low tide, Little Egret congregate on thin strips of exposed mud. Photos taken 8 Dec. 2012 and retrieved from craigbrelsford.com archive.
BIRD LIFE ON THE BUND: Vega Gull (top L, top R) will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Mallard (bottom L) sometimes appear in Huangpu River. At low tide, Little Egret congregate on thin strips of exposed mud. Photos taken 8 Dec. 2012 and retrieved from craigbrelsford.com archive. (Craig Brelsford)

I get a romantic feeling birding the Bund and Lujiazui, one of the world’s best-known urban riverscapes. The romance is especially strong on a sunny day with the polluted air acting as a filter, reducing the sun’s rays to a soft, warm glow. Vega Gull appear; the Huangpu River is their stage, the famous skyscrapers their backdrop. The gulls will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Versatile creatures are they, specks of wild Asia in the heart of Shanghai.

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 25 March 2016 (7 species). Binjiang Park (Bīnjiāng Gōngyuán [滨江公园]; 31.235662, 121.497396), a small urban park on Huangpu River in Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Sunny; low 4° C, high 13° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 109 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:50, sunset 18:10. FRI 25 MAR 2016 16:10-17:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 6
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus 13
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 18
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 4
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 26 March 2016 (53 species)

Black-necked Grebe through spotting scope, Dishui Lake, 26 March 2016. Elaine and I still have not bought an adapter for taking pictures with my iPhone 6 through our Swarovski ATX-95. By holding my hand steady against the eyepiece, I am able to acquire record shots as good as this. The grebes were at least 100 m away, far beyond the reach of my Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens; in fact, with my camera and lens, I would have been hard-pressed to find the grebes, let alone produce a useful photo. The scope-phone combo, by contrast, allows us to peek into the grebes' world. In Panel 3 we can clearly see the remaining non-breeding plumage on the lower breast of the grebe. The red eye and yellow ear tufts are obvious. Black-necked Grebe is a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region.
Black-necked Grebe through spotting scope, Dishui Lake, 26 March 2016. Elaine and I still have not bought an adapter for taking pictures with my iPhone 6 through our Swarovski ATX-95. By holding my hand steady against the eyepiece, I am able to acquire record shots as good as this. The grebes were at least 100 m away, far beyond the reach of my Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens; in fact, with my camera and lens, I would have been hard-pressed to find the grebes, let alone produce a useful photo. The scope-phone combo, by contrast, allows us to peek into the grebes’ world. In Panel 3 we can clearly see the remaining non-breeding plumage on the lower breast of the grebe. The red eye and yellow ear tufts are obvious. Black-necked Grebe is a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region. (Craig Brelsford)

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). Sunny; low 5° C, high 15° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 6 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 134 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:49, sunset 18:10. SAT 26 MAR 2016 09:30-17:00. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Gadwall Anas strepera 3
Falcated Duck A. falcata 180
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 60
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 12
Garganey A. querquedula 8
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 32
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 4
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 8
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 5
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 48
Great Egret A. alba 5
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 1
Little Egret E. garzetta 26
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 220
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 9
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 8
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 7
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 6
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark A. arvensis/gulgula 9
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 27
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 24
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 1
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 30
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 70
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 5
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 5 tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba 24 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 8
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 46
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 5
Little Bunting E. pusilla 9
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 6
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 70

Mammals

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1

The author in a scrubby strip of land on the edge of a field at Nanhui, 26 March 2016. Little Bunting and Black-faced Bunting were in the scrub, Eurasian Skylark and Common Pheasant in the field. The area is just east of Dishui Lake. Photo by Elaine Du.
The author in a scrubby strip of land on the edge of a field at Nanhui, 26 March 2016. Little Bunting and Black-faced Bunting were in the scrub, Eurasian Skylark and Common Pheasant in the field. The area is just east of Dishui Lake. (Elaine Du)

Featured image: Where Black-faced Spoonbill once foraged, digging machines now crawl, transforming critical reed-bed and marshland habitat into an artificial forest. Looming in the background is the brand-new satellite city of Lingang. Nanhui, Shanghai, 26 March 2016.

Shanghai Early Spring Subway Birding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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