In this, the fifth in my five-post series on birding Northern Xinjiang, I offer you photos of the various habitats in which I birded. — Craig Brelsford
A semi-desert steppe called the Jungar Basin covers most of Northern Xinjiang. The basin is studded with oases, many of them near waterways such as the Irtysh River. In recent decades, as the human population has grown, runoff from the mountains has been channeled into reservoirs, important for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. The Jungar Basin is bounded on the south by the Tianshan Mountains and on the north by the Altai Mountains. Both ranges offer classic alpine habitats, and the Altai, parts of which are closer to Moscow than to Shanghai, holds many species of bird more common in Europe than in China.
The map below traces our 2017 itinerary through this vast, underbirded region. Noteworthy birding areas are marked.
The photos below show some of the habitats in which I have birded in Northern Xinjiang. Farther below, you can enjoy my other shots in “Scenes from Northern Xinjiang.” Still farther below are the references for this five-post series as well as my acknowledgements and dedication.
SCENES FROM NORTHERN XINJIANG
REFERENCES FOR THE FIVE-POST SERIES
Alström, Per, Mild, Krister, & Zetterström, Bill. Pipits and Wagtails. Princeton University Press, 2003.
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., & Christie, D.A. (eds.) (1992-2011). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vols. 1-16. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Harrap, Simon & Quinn, David. Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, 1995.
Kennerley, Peter & Pearson, David. Reed and Bush Warblers. Christopher Helm, 2010.
Leader, Paul J. to Brelsford, Craig. Email message about Blyth’s Reed Warbler, 17 Jan. 2017.
MacKinnon, John to Brelsford, Craig. Email message about Ulungur Lake, 15 July 2017.
MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, 2000. Our first reference in Northern Xinjiang.
Svensson, Lars, Mullarney, Killian, & Zetterström, Dan. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 2009. Our second reference in Northern Xinjiang.
Despite being published back in 2000, the pioneering work co-authored by John MacKinnon, A Field Guide to the Birds of China, was my first reference in Northern Xinjiang. John also offered me tips about Northern Xinjiang drawn from his considerable experience in the region. I got many of my ideas for the trip from the meticulously detailed reports of Paul Holt. Jan-Erik’s and my 2017 itinerary was loosely based on the June 2015 trip of Hangzhou birder Qián Chéng (钱程). Josh Summers of farwestchina.com offered me pointers and assured me that traveling through Northern Xinjiang would be safe and fun.
I dedicate the Xinjiang report to my son, “Tiny” Craig Brelsford. Tiny, you were in Mummy’s belly when I made my final big trip in China, and you filled me with hope every day. I loved traveling around China finding birds—I love being your daddy even more. May the photos and stories here inspire your own big adventures someday!
This post is the fifth in a five-post series about birding in Northern Xinjiang.
Featured image: Habitats of Northern Xinjiang. Clockwise from top L: oasis with sere mountains looming in background, Hongyanglin; Jungar Basin semi-desert at Fukang-Beishawo; alpine meadow, Altai Mountains; semi-desert, reeds, and reservoir at Baihu, Urumqi. All by Craig Brelsford, except bottom L, by Sūn Yǒng Dōng (孙永东).
Editor’s note: John MacKinnon is co-author of A Field Guide to the Birds of China, the most influential book ever written about the birds of China. John also authored the first and second guest posts in the history of shanghaibirding.com, and he visited Shanghai’s Cape Nanhui with me in April 2017. Herewith we present “Well-spotted in the Bamboo,” John’s third guest post for our site. In it, John introduces the bird community of Jinfoshan, the highest peak in the Dalou Mountains in the city-province of Chongqing. John’s bird of the trip was Spotted Laughingthrush (above), a “quiet, gentle bird” of mountain forests and one of seven species of laughingthrush at Jinfoshan. — Craig Brelsford
I recently was invited to join a workshop of the China Bird Watching Association to review three years’ monitoring of wintering data on Scaly-sided Merganser. The attraction was that the meeting was to be held in Jinfoshan National Nature Reserve in Nanchuan District, Chongqing. So I added a day to my trip for birdwatching and ended up on the top of this spectacular mountain for three days. Whilst floods were raging in Hubei and Anhui, we 40 birdwatchers enjoyed beautiful weather—blue skies and only occasional quick showers of rain to liven up the bird life.
At an elevation of 2251 m (7,385 ft.), Jinfoshan is the highest peak in the Dalou Mountains. The reserve was recently added to the South China Karst World Heritage Site. It is also listed as an important bird area on account of its having Reeves’s Pheasant. Jinfoshan combines ease of access with great birding trails and pristine habitats. It deserves much more attention, but it is not well-known to most birders.
Jinfoshan offers a great chance to view vertical stratification of flora and fauna, since you rise quickly—at first by shuttle bus and then by cable car through the subtropical evergreen valleys, temperate mixed forests, and finally subalpine forest and meadows.
I did not have time to explore the lower levels, but even whilst waiting for the shuttle bus we could see Red-billed Blue Magpie, Hair-crested Drongo, Blue Whistling Thrush, Russet Sparrow, and Plumbeous Water Redstart. Overhead circled Crested Honey Buzzard.
Our meetings were in a fancy five-star hotel. My own room had a bath big enough to swim in! But the real attraction was to get out into the surrounding forest whenever the meeting schedule gave us a chance.
Not that the meeting was not interesting in itself! I was impressed to see so many motivated and very professional presentations by the various monitoring teams. More rivers and reservoirs get monitored each year, and more than 1,000 wintering Scaly-sided Merganser were recorded in the winter of 2016-17. The Association has also done a magnificent job in developing the species as a lovable and charismatic emblem of conservation in China.
Even from the hotel windows and gardens there were plenty of birds to see. Olive-backed Pipit and White Wagtail were nesting on the grassy flat roof, and Verditer Flycatcher perched temptingly on prominent perches (though proved skittish for photography). The woods echoed to the calls of Large-billed Leaf Warbler and Bianchi’s Warbler. Green-backed Tit were in full breeding plumage; White-collared Yuhina was the most visible bird. The most beautiful of the common birds was certainly Vinaceous Rosefinch, the males of which were gorgeous in their deep purple plumage.
The cable-car ride offered amazing views of the deep gorges and lush forests. Great flocks of swifts circled their nesting sites on the sheer limestone cliff faces. In fact, these were mixed flocks, with Pacific Swift, House Swift, Himalayan Swiftlet, and Asian House Martin all visible.
Enter the woods and you meet a different complex of birds. The undergrowth is thick with bamboo, and indeed this site was historically within the range of Giant Panda and may again be considered as a site for reintroduction.
A rustling in the trees revealed feeding White-bellied Green Pigeon. Busily collecting moths and other insects were Red-tailed Minla, whilst the Blue-winged Minla were more leisurely preening each other after a morning bath. Black-headed Sibia sneaked in and out to collect small fruits. Flocks of Grey-hooded Fulvetta rattled alarm in the bamboo in mixed flocks with Rufous-capped Babbler and some very pretty Black-throated Parrotbill.
Whilst colleagues at the merganser meeting swarmed the site with an array of expensive cameras and optics, I stayed deep in the forests, looking for laughingthrushes. I was jealous of the others getting nice photos of Slaty Bunting and White-bellied Redstart, but I had my own rewards in the damp bamboo.
One of the most extraordinary bird calls consists of many dozens of high-pitched notes merging together into a prolonged whistle. The entire call lasts almost a minute, but the caller is elusive. Finally I nailed it down and photographed the caller in the act—an elusive Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler.
Another bird making loud and rather melodious calls was Red-billed Leiothrix working their way among the undergrowth collecting food for their nearby nestlings. Chinese Babax sneaked about on the forest floor.
Jinfoshan boasts seven species of laughingthrush. The lower sectors are home to White-browed Laughingthrush, Moustached Laughingthrush, and White-throated Laughingthrush. Near the reserve summit in open scrub and in the forested limestone forests, the common Elliot’s Laughingthrush creeps about, making low, quiet glides and gentle calls.
For me the highlight of the trip was meeting flocks of rather approachable Spotted Laughingthrush—a species with a much more restricted China distribution, being a Himalayan species extending in mountain forests as far as Jinfoshan and Shennongjia. This is a quiet, gentle bird, hopping about on the forest floor searching under leaves and through the moss.
I sat among fluffy rock squirrels and watched their antics. They took me back to my favoured sites with warm memories of being among the Giant Panda of Wolong in Sichuan and the hilly forests of Bhutan.
Featured image: Spotted LaughingthrushGarrulax ocellatus, Jinfoshan, Chongqing. (John MacKinnon)
Editor’s note: Michael Grunwell (above) is a British birder who last month moved from Shanghai to Penang, Malaysia. Michael spent four years in China, two in Nanchang and two in Shanghai. During that time, amid a full-time career and while providing for his wife and three children, Michael noted more than 700 species of bird in the Middle Kingdom. As if his personal commitments were not challenging enough, Michael faced another obstacle: a lack of “gen,” or basic birding information. In this essay, Michael contends that in China, getting gen is too difficult. Among “people in the know,” writes Michael, a “cheery, clubbable atmosphere” stifles the free flow of information. “China needs a great deal more published articles on sites and species,” he maintains, and he looks forward to a day when birding info in China will be “logged by and accessible to all.” — Craig Brelsford
Exactly 33 years ago, I went on an independent birding trip to Peru. We faced Maoist insurrection and genuine danger—and we had better gen on where to find birds than China has in 2017.
China needs a great deal more published articles on sites and species. It is not right that most of the birding days in various bird-rich parts of China are unpublished and unavailable.
There seems to be a cheery, clubbable atmosphere which stifles real gen.
Take Sichuan, for example. Most Western birders on a trip to that province are taken to major sites such as Labahe and Balangshan. Very little precise gen is ever published about where species are seen.
Glowing accounts of yet another glorious China trip are written up by the tour companies and uploaded to Cloudbirders. These so-called “reports” are devoid of precise gen and should be seen for what they really are, which is infomercials.
With the growing popularity of bird-observation sites such as eBird, it has never been easier to make records that are timely, accurate, and most important, public. I note that the vast majority of the eBird hotspots in Sichuan have lists posted by independent birders—and almost no tour companies.
I do not agree that freedom of information damages commercial guiding. Take Turkey, for example. Although the main birding sites in that country are well-known, birders still pay big money for tours, because most people who go on tours are not list-obsessed but just normal people who want a hassle-free trip. I published a report on sites around Istanbul 13 years ago; a few years ago, I saw an advert for a bird tour going to the same places for a handsome price.
Another example is Sri Lanka. All the sites for the endemics are well-known. I recorded all the endemics in only five and a half days in 2011, and I wrote a full report that did wonders for my guide’s business.
In stark contrast to the foregoing stands China. It still astonishes me that, time and time again during my four years in China, I had to rely on a handful of trip reports for basic gen. China has a population of 1.4 billion, and there is no simple, clear Web site giving basic information on the Top 10 birding sites in western China!
I want every day’s birding in China to be logged by and accessible to all. Am I idealistic? Indeed I am. Knowledge about Chinese birds needs to grow, and fast. We must escape the current sclerotic situation, in which keen birders are waiting for crumbs to be thrown from the table of those in the know.
If you want an example of what the future could be like, then look no further than this Web site, shanghaibirding.com. Craig Brelsford is committed to cooperative birding, providing complete and precise details of bird sightings and birding locations. On Shanghai Birding, the companion WeChat group, Craig and other users regularly post news of and directions to sightings within minutes of discovery.
That’s the way it should be—a birding culture dedicated not to the profits of the commercial birder but to the enjoyment of the common birder. A healthy birding community is run by common birders and for common birders.
Featured image: Clockwise from top L, Michael Grunwell (L) with fellow shanghaibirding.com contributor John MacKinnon at Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, 8 April 2017 (Craig Brelsford); Michael using the spotting scope at Ga’er Monastery, Qinghai, 8 July 2016 (Craig Brelsford); Michael with Craig Brelsford (R) at Cape Nanhui, 4 April 2016 (Elaine Du); Michael with old friend Mark Waters (R) in Huzhu County, Qinghai, 27 June 2016 (Craig Brelsford).
Editor’s note: The image above shows three cuckoos of the Shanghai region. Clockwise from L: Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, and Large Hawk-Cuckoo. Join us as we study the rich array of cuckoos that passes through Earth’s greatest city.
It is spring, and one of the most thrilling moments of the bird migration in Shanghai is upon us–the passage of the Cuculinae, the Old World brood-parasitic cuckoos. Nowhere in the world is the diversity of this group greater than in eastern Eurasia, and here in Shanghai we get an enviable selection. Let us examine our Shanghai-area parasitic cuckoos and learn how to tell them apart.
We can divide the Shanghai-area brood-parasitic cuckoos into two categories: the mainly grey, slender-bodied Cuculus cuckoos and the non-Cuculus cuckoos. We will look at the non-Cuculus cuckoos first.
MASTER MIMICS: THE HAWK-CUCKOOS
The non-Cuculus parasitic cuckoo that one is most likely to see in Shanghai is Large Hawk-CuckooHierococcyx sparverioides. In the microforests at Cape Nanhui and once, to my surprise, in inner-city Zhongshan Park, I have heard the scream of “Brain fever!” The species breeds in nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
The hawk-cuckoos mimic sparrowhawks, an amazing feat of evolution. The resemblance serves, scientists say, not to increase stealth but to decrease it. Passerines, mistaking the intruder for a sparrowhawk, mob it, thereby giving away the location of their nest. After the tumult dies down, the hawk-cuckoo quietly swoops in and lays her egg.
When it comes to the business of eating, however, the masquerade ends. The hooked bill of a sparrowhawk is a butcher’s tool, made for stripping the flesh of vertebrates from bone. The bill of a hawk-cuckoo is blunt, the utensil of a caterpillar-eater. Need a quick differentiator between “sprock” and hawk-cuckoo? Look to the bill.
Another separation we Shanghai birders need to make is that between Large Hawk-Cuckoo and Rufous Hawk-CuckooHierococcyx hyperythrus. If seen clearly, adult Large Hawk-Cuckoo and Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo are readily separable. Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo shows a belly washed rufous with faint streaks. Large Hawk-Cuckoo is heavily barred and streaked and has the rufous coloring confined to the upper breast.
Adult Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo shows a white spot on the nape, white neck-sides, and white scapular crescents. These features may also be visible in sub-adult Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo. Large Hawk-Cuckoo shows none of these in any plumage.
Size differences may be appreciable. An average Large Hawk-Cuckoo is 15 percent larger than Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo. The tails differ, with the black subterminal band of Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo being bordered by a rufous line above and by the rufous tail-tip below. These rufous areas may be visible in immature cuckoos.
ASIAN KOEL AND CHESTNUT-WINGED CUCKOO
The other non-Cuculus parasitic cuckoos of the Shanghai region are Asian KoelEudynamys scolopaceus and Chestnut-winged CuckooClamator coromandus. Neither poses great ID challenges.
In China, Asian Koel ssp. chinensis breeds mainly south of the Yangtze River. With its familiar “koh-EL” song, Asian Koel is as easy to hear as it is hard to see in the dense forests where it is almost invariably found. It shows strong sexual dimorphism, with the male entirely glossy bluish-black and the female brown with whitish streaks, bars, and spots.
Five Cuculus cuckoos have been claimed for Shanghai: Lesser CuckooCuculus poliocephalus, Indian CuckooC. micropterus, Himalayan CuckooC. saturatus, Oriental CuckooC. optatus, and Common CuckooC. canorus.
The latter breeds in the area, parasitizing the nests of Oriental Reed Warbler in the reed beds at Cape Nanhui. Its famous song, perhaps the best-known bird sound in the world, is hard to miss at Nanhui in May.
Lesser Cuckoo and Indian Cuckoo breed in the region and are recorded on passage in Shanghai. Himalayan Cuckoo and Oriental Cuckoo may pass through Shanghai, but inasmuch as in size, plumage, and bare parts they are nearly identical to each other and very close to Common Cuckoo, and because they rarely (if ever) sing in our region, it is impossible to know how common they are.
Hear the song of any of these Cuculus, and you will have your ID; even the similar songs of Himalayan and Oriental are readily separable. If your cuckoo is silent, however, then you will need a closer look. Lesser Cuckoo and Indian Cuckoo have a brown iris, Common a bright-yellow iris. Lesser Cuckoo is the size of a thrush; Indian Cuckoo is a third larger; Common Cuckoo is larger still, approaching the size of a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk.
In autumn, juveniles pass through Shanghai. They are silent and nearly impossible to identify to species. If one gets a close look at juvenile Lesser Cuckoo, however, one may appreciate its thrush-like size. If you happen to be on the breeding grounds, then you can attempt an ID according to the species of the foster parent.
Lesser CoucalCentropus bengalensis is the good guy of the Shanghai cuckoo world. Unlike all the other cuckoos recorded in Shanghai, but like most of the cuckoos in the world, the coucals are not brood parasites. Lesser Coucal, resident in Shanghai, builds a dome nest on the ground.
Lesser Coucal may be the only non-Cuculinae cuckoo in Shanghai, but it shares at least one trait with the brood parasites: It is very unobtrusive. Look for Lesser Coucal in areas of thick vegetation near water, such as the strips of reed bed along the canals at Cape Nanhui. If you find one, count yourself lucky.
Greater CoucalCentropus sinensis occurs south of our region. It is nearly half again as large as Lesser Coucal and has a cleaner and glossier mantle, a thicker bill, and a redder iris.
RESOURCES ON CUCKOOS
The Sounds of Shanghai’s Cuckoos, by Craig Brelsford
All cuckoos from the Shanghai area are covered here. I make my recordings with my handy little Olympus DM-650.
In this post I used several of Kai Pflug’s bird images. Kai and I have worked together from the earliest days of shanghaibirding.com, and I have published dozens of Kai’s photographs on this site. Kai made a notable contribution to my October 2016 post “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.” In September 2016 I wrote about Kai’s work cleaning up the litter at Nanhui.
Kai is from Germany, lives in Shanghai, and is an active member of the Shanghai Birding WeChat group.
Thanks also to Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez for his advice on Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo and Plaintive Cuckoo.
Featured image: Clockwise from L, Rufous Hawk-CuckooHierococcyx hyperythrus, Yangkou (Rudong), Jiangsu, October 2010; Chestnut-winged CuckooClamator coromandus, Laoshan, Nanjing, Jiangsu, July 2009; and Large Hawk-CuckooHierococcyx sparverioides, Nanhui, Shanghai, May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
On Sat. 8 April 2017 I birded Cape Nanhui with John MacKinnon. John is co-author of A Field Guide to the Birds of China, the most influential book ever written about China’s birds. On John’s first visit to the tip of the Shanghai Peninsula, we noted 84 species. John and I were joined by veteran birders Michael Grunwell and Russell Boyman and the outstanding high-school birder Larry Chen.
We gave John the Grand Nanhui Tour, starting at Luchao to the south and ending 30 km north at Binhai. Heading back to the city, we made a brief stop at the sod farm just south of Pudong Airport, where we found a single Oriental Plover.
Nanhui yielded 23 Marsh Grassbird performing the song flight at three locations, and we saw 10 EndangeredGreat Knot and 1 Near ThreatenedCurlew Sandpiper. We had a pair of Rufous-faced Warbler and a Common Starling.
Also: Garganey 57, Greater Scaup 1 (Dishui Lake), Little Curlew 31 (flock), Sharp-tailed Sandpiper 11 (first of season), Red-necked Stint 1 (first of season), Wood Sandpiper 1 (first of season), Peregrine Falcon 1, Dusky Warbler 1 at Magic Parking Lot (possibly wintered there), and Reed Parrotbill 18.
GETTING TO KNOW JOHN MACKINNON
Our partner, John MacKinnon, co-authored A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Published in 2000, the book has sold more than 50,000 copies and remains the only bird guide in English covering all China. John also wrote the first and second guest posts in the history of shanghaibirding.com.
John is witty and a fine storyteller. He had us roaring with tales drawn from his six decades as a researcher in Asia. The funniest story was about the doctor back home in Britain. Every time John straggled in, the doc would call in his students, so that they could study the strange new tropical disease John had contracted.
“I never cared about my health, because I never expected to live this long!” John said.
John also talked about his masterpiece, A Field Guide to the Birds of China.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Field Guide. Had it merely been a window for Westerners to the birds of the world’s most populous country, then John’s work would have been important enough. The Field Guide, however, in translated form has introduced tens of thousands of Chinese to the birds of their own country. John’s Chinese name, Mǎjìngnéng (马敬能), is known by every birder in China.
John faced obstacles unknown to field-guide writers in North America and Western Europe, where birding has been practiced for 200 years. His sources were often thin, he said.
“For range maps, I had nearly nothing from Russia,” John said. “A Chinese book had ranges stopping at the Chinese border. Another book had no paintings, only descriptions.”
To critics who unfairly compare John’s Field Guide to field guides covering more developed parts of the world, John had this to say:
“You’ve got to finish something. We finished the book. We could have waited and said, ‘Oh, another species has been split, we must revise,’ but at a certain point you have to say, ‘We must go with what we’ve got.’”
To this day, no Westerner has repeated John’s feat. Others talked; John acted. One can imagine the feeling of accomplishment in John’s heart.
John is a handy photographer and got off some good shots, three of which are displayed in the Day List at the bottom of this post. Here are some photos I took of the pioneer birder and naturalist.
MARSH GRASSBIRD ON THE BRINK
Marsh Grassbird were singing in the large reed beds at Nanhui. They were most conspicuous at the reed bed south of the Holiday Inn (30.870711, 121.942976). The species, listed as Near Threatened by IUCN, was also noted in the pristine reed bed (30.931790, 121.949169) associated with the defunct wetland reserve.
The reed beds at Cape Nanhui may be the last stronghold of Locustella pryeri sinensis on the Shanghai Peninsula. The species is highly dependent on large reed beds. In areas where only strips of reeds remain, the song of Marsh Grassbird is never heard. Its partner species, Reed Parrotbill, a candidate for official bird of the city-province of Shanghai, is only slightly less dependent on large reed beds.
One of the areas where last year my partners and I noted Marsh Grassbird performing its song flight has been flattened. No song of Marsh Grassbird was heard there Saturday. A few Reed Parrotbill were calling in one of the strips of reeds left standing.
Much needs to be learned about Marsh Grassbird in Earth’s largest city. Birders, look for the fluttering song flight, and listen for this song:
Marsh Grassbird, 10 April 2016, large reed bed at 30.870711, 121.942976, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai (00:07; 1 MB)
The plight of Marsh Grassbird brings to mind the series of posts I wrote last year on the precarious environmental situation at Cape Nanhui.
This post is about birding Emeifeng in the spring of 2015. The mountain in western Fujian, not to be confused with the more famous Emeishan in Sichuan, ranks high on Shanghai birders’ must-see lists. It is a reliable site for Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, and its vast forests provide habitat for other key southeastern Chinese species. A bit too far to drive, a bit too close to fly, Emeifeng is the perfect expedition for the high-speed train.
This post covers 28 to 31 May 2015, the second of my two four-day trips to the mountain. A post on the first trip, which took place 30 April to 3 May 2015, was published on 12 Jan. 2017.
The photo above, by Elaine Du, shows Craig Brelsford searching for Brown Bush Warbler in the pristine alpine scrub on Emeifeng, elev. 1650 m (5,410 ft.).
— Noting 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
— Closely studying three Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated WarblerPhylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted WarblerP. ricketti, and Hartert’s Leaf WarblerP. goodsoni fokiensis, as well as having close encounters with White-spectacled WarblerSeicercus affinis intermedius
— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng
— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little ForktailEnicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed ForktailE. schistaceus, White-crowned ForktailE. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted ForktailE. maculatus bacatus
— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush
— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream
— Noting 103 species, 81 on the first trip, 86 on the second. Among the birds we found were key southern Chinese species such as Black Bittern, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Great Barbet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Sultan Tit, Brown Bush Warbler, Small Niltava, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler
— Enjoying the clean air and unspoiled beauty of Emeifeng
Wed. 27 May 2015
During our first trip to Emeifeng, Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and I agreed to bird the mountain about a month later to see the changes four weeks would bring. Today, that second trip began. As in April, Elaine and I took the high-speed train from Shanghai to Nanchang and at Nanchang boarded the train to Taining. We once again checked in to Huada Hotel (Huádà Jiǔdiàn [华大酒店], +86 598-7817777).
With my camera in the repair shop, I was denied the opportunity to take photographs. I focused harder on good old-fashioned birding and made many sound recordings. The bird photos in this post come from other trips.
On our return to Emeifeng, Elaine and I noted 57 species. Bird of the day was Elliot’s Pheasant. Other noteworthy birds were 5 Silver Pheasant and 16 Buffy Laughingthrush. Little Forktail became our fourth species of forktail seen at Emeifeng, and Yellow-cheeked Tit put on an amazing vocal display.
Elliot’s Pheasant was a life bird for Elaine and me. We found a male near the road to Qingyun Temple just above kilometer marker 8 at an elevation of 1100 m. The bird allowed us several seconds to view it before it slipped away. 4 of the 5 Silver Pheasant we noted were in a flock (3 males, 1 female) on a hillside just above km 6 at an elev. of 940 m.
As was the case four weeks ago, we noted White-spectacled Warbler only above elev. 1400 m. The song of this species, coming from various directions, was one of the most common bird sounds today around Qingyun Temple. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was not seen, but our other two “southern” leaf warblers from our earlier trip, Buff-throated Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler, were represented by 1 individual each. Buff-throated Warbler was found along the boardwalk to Qingyun Temple and is presumably one of the same pair that I met at that spot on 30 April. The Sulphur-breasted Warbler that I found four weeks ago responded to playback with song; today’s Sulphur-breasted Warbler responded with a brief call.
Fog shrouded the Qingyun Temple area most of the day. When it finally cleared, around 15:00, birds became active, as though it were dawn. 8 Buffy Laughingthrush were the main component of a foraging party that included 3 Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. They moved through the forest next to the boardwalk. The loud, jazzy sound of Buffy Laughingthrush caused a carpenter working in the area to start singing along. Another powerful singer in that wood was Yellow-cheeked Tit. A beautiful male performed three distinct songs for us, stopping only to devour a caterpillar:
Yellow-cheeked Tit, Emeifeng, 28 May 2015 (00:18; 1.5 MB)
Yellow-cheeked Tit, Emeifeng, 28 May 2015 (00:05; 1 MB)
Besides the 8 Buffy Laughingthrush near the temple, we found a flock of 6 quickly crossing the road, 1 amid a flock of 25 Grey-headed Parrotbill, and 1 heard calling from some distant spot in the forest. A pair of Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler were foraging together and calling antiphonally. We found them near the villages in the lower country at an elevation of about 750 m.
Besides Elliot’s Pheasant and Little Forktail, Elaine and I today added Lesser Cuckoo, Masked Laughingthrush, Brown Dipper, and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker to our Emeifeng list.
For our driver we once again hired Dèng Zhōngpíng (邓忠平, +86 138-6059-6327; no English, non-smoker).
Elaine and I noted 63 species. The highlight of the day was finding Blue-throated Bee-eater and Oriental Dollarbird on a utility wire above Shuibu Reservoir. Blue-throated Bee-eater was new to our Emeifeng list and a lifer for Elaine. Other new birds were Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Common Kingfisher, Crested Kingfisher, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-naped Oriole, Black Drongo, Red-billed Starling, and White-rumped Munia.
Michael Grunwell joined Elaine and me. We noted 54 species. Elliot’s Pheasant were seen in poor light, Cabot’s Tragopan appeared at an elevation of about 1400 m, Blue-throated Bee-eater were present by Shuibu Reservoir, and Brown Bush Warbler were staking out territories at the top of the Emeifeng altitudinal layer-cake.
The Elliot’s were near Shuibu Reservoir at an elevation of about 750 m. As darkness was falling, Michael, walking ahead of us along the road, inadvertently flushed a sub-adult male. Elaine and I arrived in time to see 5 females (or perhaps fledglings) exploding into flight from positions just a few meters from us. The tragopans were seen earlier but also in low light, this caused by fog.
The Blue-throated Bee-eater are a mystery; the species apparently has not bred in the area in recent memory. The habitat around Shuibu Reservoir seems favorable. There are plenty of vertical surfaces of soft earth in which to construct cavity nests, and the artificial lake is at a remote location, near the Fujian-Jiangxi border.
We noted all our Brown Bush Warbler at altitudes of 1500 m to 1700 m (between Qingyun Temple and the radio tower). At Emeifeng, the dense alpine scrub that Locustella luteoventris favors occurs only at those altitudes. Confident in their nearly impenetrable tangle of vegetation, the extreme skulkers allowed us to peek in from distances of less than 2 m. I recorded the soft, monotonous song of this species, like a sewing machine running or an automobile idling.
Brown Bush Warbler, sewing-machine song, Emeifeng, elev. ca. 1600 m, 30 May 2015 (00:06; 266 KB)
Brown Bush Warbler, sewing-machine song, Emeifeng, elev. ca. 1600 m, 30 May 2015 (00:24; 999 KB)
The three of us wanted to explore more of the high country on the peak directly opposite the radio tower, but clouds again engulfed the ridgeline, and rain started to fall.
A search for Spotted Elachura between kilometer markers 12 and 13 got us wet feet but no bird. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler also were not noted, a surprise given that we had heard these species singing and defending territories a month earlier.
Besides Brown Bush Warbler, Elaine and I today added Black Bittern and Asian Barred Owlet to our Emeifeng list.
Elaine and I noted 48 species. From the lodge area atop Emeifeng we walked to the little tower on the slope opposite the radio tower. The little tower sits amid pristine alpine scrub and is reachable only by foot. We walked to an elevation of about 1650 m. We were searching for Russet Bush Warbler and failed to find it. We found species similar to those in the scrub between the radio tower and Qingyun Temple, among them Brown Bush Warbler and Buff-throated Warbler.
Earlier, on the dirt road behind the locked gate in the lodge area, Mr. Deng came running back to me, signaling for me to come. We tiptoed a few steps, and there she was, the queen of the high forest, a female Cabot’s Tragopan. She was standing on the edge of the forest track. The tragopan did not flee but foraged calmly in front of us for two magic minutes before creeping silently into the forest.
The magic feeling continued in the alpine scrub. We saw no evidence of logging; the scrub is there not because an older forest was cut, but because Mother Nature intended it that way. The place exudes health and balance. Grass grows lushly, and one can look at almost any spot on the ground and find many types of colorful insects. Butterflies flit from flower to flower. When the clouds parted, we enjoyed the commanding view of the forest below. Flybys of Great Barbet and Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush enlivened the scene. White-necklaced Partridge, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, and Lesser Cuckoo called from hidden locations below. Buff-throated Warbler were busy patrolling their territories, standing sentinel atop the shrubs. Brown Bush Warbler were not calling spontaneously, and their presence might not have been detected but for their vigorous response to playback.
The day was nearly windless, and few tourists were visiting the top. The golden silence was broken only by birds, among them a drumming Speckled Piculet. The songs of Blyth’s Shrike-babbler and White-spectacled Warbler carried far. In the contest of laughingthrush songs, Chinese Hwamei took the prize for power, and Buffy Laughingthrush won for melody. Here is a selection of what we heard:
White-spectacled Warbler, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (00:03; 913 KB)
Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (00:10; 1.2 MB)
Speckled Piculet, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (01:10; 3.6 MB)
Driving back down the hill, we found a male Silver Pheasant at ca. 1300 m and a female Elliot’s Pheasant at ca. 1200 m.
In addition to Speckled Piculet, Black-collared Starling was new to our Emeifeng list.
Birds Noted Around Emeifeng, Fujian, China, 30 April 2015 to 3 May 2015 and 28-31 May 2015 (103 species)
鸳鸯 (yuānyāng) Aix galericulata
9 on 2015-05-02
23 on 2015-05-03
1 on 2015-05-28
15 on 2015-05-30
Coastal province SE China. Pop.: 37.7 million. Area: 121,400 sq. km (46,900 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): 20% larger than Jiangsu (but with less than half as many inhabitants). Same size as North Korea & Pennsylvania; slightly smaller than Greece.
Jiangxi (Jiāngxī Shěng [江西省]): province SE China W of Fujian.