Comparison of Japanese ThrushTurdus cardis and Grey-backed ThrushT. hortulorum. Panels 1a-1c: Japanese Thrush, male. 2, 3a, 4a: Japanese Thrush, female. 3b, 4b: Grey-backed Thrush. Male Japanese Thrush distinguished from Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus (not pictured) by smaller size and white belly covered with black arrowheads. Japanese and Grey-backed females harder to separate (3a, 3b). In Japanese, arrowheads run farther down flanks (4a) than in Grey-backed (4b). 4a: Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, November. 4b: Jiangsu, October. All others Cape Nanhui, October. (Craig Brelsford).
Japanese ThrushTurdus cardis is a small thrush of deciduous temperate forests. Two breeding populations, one in Japan, the other in east-central China centered around Hubei. Winters southeast China (including Hainan) into northern Southeast Asia. Common passage migrant Shanghai. BEHAVIOR Shy, usually alone, sometimes in small flocks, especially on passage. ID & COMPARISON Adult male resembles small Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus but has white apron marked with black arrowhead spots. Vent solid white; other plumage black. Female upperparts greyish-brown. Female white below, with arrowhead spots extending up breast. Malar stripes blackish; center of throat pale. Flanks also spotted, with orange wash extending to side of neck. Orange also on underwing coverts, as Grey-backed ThrushT. hortulorum. Best distinguished from female Black-breasted ThrushT. dissimilis by heavier spots, which in Japanese female also cover upper belly and flanks; also has browner upperparts and darker bill. First-winter male browner than adult, with no black on upperparts; first-summer male greyish-black above. BARE PARTS Bill, eye-ring yellow (male) or dark and yellowish at base (female). Feet fleshy-yellow. VOICE Song rich and varied, with warbled phrases and whistles, delivered from high perch. — Craig Brelsford
You know your birding area is rich when Nordmann’s Greenshank fails to capture the headline. On Sat. 29 Oct., the day Swinhoe’s Rail electrified Shanghai birders, my partners Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I spotted the endangered Nordmann’s in the defunct nature reserve (30.920500, 121.973167) at Cape Nanhui. We speculate that Saturday’s adult-winter Nordmann’s is the same individual we saw in the area on 15 Oct. and 20 Oct. and possibly as far back as 17 Sept. and 3 Sept.
Other highlights Saturday were 54 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill found exclusively in the defunct nature reserve, further underscoring the critical importance of that highly threatened parcel of land. Joining Nordmann’s in the high-tide roost were 2 Ruff, a near-threatened Red Knot, and 2 of our day’s 4 Saunders’s Gull, a vulnerable species uncommon in Shanghai.
We had Japanese Grosbeak in Microforest 8 and Long-eared Owl at the Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551). Among our season’s firsts were 2 Tundra Bean Goose, Black-necked Grebe, 5 Goldcrest, Manchurian/Japanese Bush Warbler, 3 Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, and 2 Dusky Thrush. Buntings finally are arriving in numbers, with Yellow-throated Bunting (16) and Chestnut Bunting (3) debuting on our Autumn 2016 list. We had a lucky 88 species in all.
Throughout the day, the effectiveness of the Nanhui microforests was on display at Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). The tiny wood, which we visited off and on, was hopping with hungry migrants, grounded on a breezy day. Brambling, Daurian Redstart, and Yellow-bellied Tit were the tamest, but as the day wore on even shy species such as Japanese Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, and Black-winged Cuckooshrike were coming into the open. Photographers were present, but no one was using mealworms; the forest birds were attracted solely to the habitat offered by a stand of trees no bigger than a tennis court.
We netted season’s first Buff-bellied Pipit during a 35-minute stop at the sod farm near Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). Red-throated Pipit were present in smaller numbers (3) than six days earlier.
Alström, Per, Krister Mild & Bill Zetterström. Pipits and Wagtails. Princeton University Press, 2003. This landmark book, co-authored by Shanghai Birding member Per Alström, is my first reference on all things Motacillidae. Of particular use was p. 56, “Water Pipit and Allies (in fresh winter plumage).”
Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, 2009. Thrushes and pipits.
Svensson, Lars & Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 1999-2009. Outstanding illustrations of pipits by Mullarney.
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.
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.
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.
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 6,000 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.
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.
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
On Sat. 7 Nov. our birding Dream Team noted 70 species. Nanhui once again outshone Lesser Yangshan, yielding 12 Black-faced Spoonbill and Dalmatian Pelican. Japanese Thrush were particularly abundant, with a count of 37. A juvenile Rook, uncommon in Shanghai, flew by briefly, and we noted 3 Reed Parrotbill.
The unseasonably warm day began on Lesser Yangshan. We saw two sizable flocks of Brambling, noted Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Black Kite, and found singing Meadow Bunting, territorial even in November.
At the Magic Parking Lot in Nanhui, we waited with the photographers for a smart male Siberian Rubythroat before driving down to the empty, blue-roofed building. The scrubby fields near the building produced 7 Japanese Quail as well as Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, the Rook, and several of the Japanese Thrush. In the nearby microforests, Japanese Thrush and Eyebrowed Thrush were massing in big flocks, underscoring the importance of those woodsy oases amid the reeds and rice fields that cover most of the area.
Exhausted from the heat, we sat down in Microforest 1 to rest. This was a good decision, as the quiet sitting allowed shyer birds to appear from the reeds just behind the trees. Among these were Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler and the Reed Parrotbills. A Brambling loitered on the forest floor, grooming itself. A Siskin, too hungry to care about us, picked at a seed head just meters away. Red-flanked Bluetail and Daurian Redstart foraged right at our feet.
At the Magic GPS Point, a Pale Thrush flew into a window at the garishly large, completely empty building next to the Holiday Inn. I picked up the unconscious bird, an adult male. The thrush had flown hundreds of kilometers to get to Nanhui, but it was exquisite, a beautiful specimen, flawless and clean. I stroked the incredibly soft, smooth feathers, marveling at their beauty. We snapped pictures of the outer tail feathers showing the white tip, important for ID’ing Pale Thrushes in flight. We set it down in a flower bed next to the rotten carcass of a Black-capped Kingfisher that doubtlessly had met its end by flying into the same huge windows. We feared the thrush was dead, but to our surprise, when we came back a while later, the thrush had disappeared. Few Chinese pick up dead birds, and I’ve never seen cats in the area, so it is highly possible that the thrush survived the collision and went on its way.
The Rook, a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region, required some analysis; it was a good thing I got photos. Looking at the photos on my MacBook, I had the following thought process: (1) Bill, forehead much unlike Large-billed. (2) Is our bird therefore Carrion Crow or juvenile Rook? (3) Mark Brazil (Birds of East Asia) has Rook as a winter visitor to Shanghai region but has Carrion Crow no further S than Hebei. Elaine and I also have experience with Rook in this region; we noted 2 Rook on Lesser Yangshan on 20 Sept. 2014. We have never noted Carrion Crow in the region. (4) My photos clearly show a crow with a straight culmen, not decurved like that of Carrion–a straight culmen being a classic feature of Rook.
The all-black crows are uncommon in Shanghai. Whenever birders see an all-black crow in this area, we should take it seriously and try hard for an ID. Many birders find crows boring, but Rook in Shanghai is one of the most interesting records we had that day.
The Dream Team consists of veteran birder Michael Grunwell, husband-and-wife team Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, Elaine, and me. With Michael’s knowledge and Xueping and Elaine’s diligence, and with Stephan and me taking care of the record shots, the Dream Team almost always nails the ID.
Featured image: Stephan Popp using Craig Brelsford’s spotting scope, Elaine Du in background. Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, 7 November 2015. (Craig Brelsford)