White-bellied Green Pigeon! (or, How We Slogged Our Way through the Shanghai Smog and Picked Up a Lifer)

Fresh from our trip to Guangxi, Elaine and I on Saturday noted 57 species at Lesser Yangshan and Nanhui. The highlight was White-bellied Green Pigeon at Nanhui. Nanhui also produced 3 Greater Scaup, an impressive 440 Tufted Duck and 470 Kentish Plover, and a single Reed Parrotbill. On Lesser Yangshan, Brown-eared Bulbul was noted once again, and I flushed 2 Eurasian Woodcock.

After the smoggiest, most pollution-filled beginning to a birding day I had ever seen, our respectable showing was a surprise to Elaine and our partners Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp. Starting in Puxi at 06:15, we crawled through thick haze, with visibility sometimes reduced to less than 50 meters. Many birders would have reasonably turned back, but we pressed on, cheerfully repeating the two mantras of birding: (1) you never know and (2) wait. Finally, driving across Donghai Bridge, after more than two hours in Stephan and Xueping’s Passat, we saw a hint of blue sky over Lesser Yangshan Island. Free at last!

In the animal world, the survivors are the athletes and the geniuses. This Richard's Pipit is in top condition. It has caught a katydid, and nicely dividing its attention between prey and predator, the bird assesses the danger, bashes its large prey once more, and safely makes off with the stunned insect.
In the animal world, the survivors are the athletes and the geniuses. This Richard’s Pipit is in top condition. It has caught a katydid, and nicely dividing its attention between prey and predator, the bird assesses the danger, bashes its large prey once more, and safely makes off with the stunned insect. (Craig Brelsford)

At that point, just breathing deeply was a bonus; we could have seen not a single bird and felt the trip to the island worthwhile. As it was, however, we generated interesting records such as the bulbul, the woodcocks, and Yellow-bellied Tit, all found in Garbage Dump Gully. Rustic Bunting was on the coastal plain, and among the common winter visitors were 14 Daurian Redstart, 2 Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, and 3 Pale Thrush.

Looking back toward the mainland, we noticed that more and more of Donghai Bridge was becoming visible. We decided to chance it and return to Nanhui. Visibility had improved here, too, and at Dishui Lake, our first stop, we gazed hundreds of meters across the water. Using the spotting scopes, Elaine and Xueping picked through the birds. The search for Horned Grebe was fruitless, but 5 Black-necked Grebe were there, and 330 Falcated Duck, 15 Eurasian Wigeon, and 80 Great Crested Grebe were present in more or less their earlier proportions. In the first big pond north of the Magic Parking Lot, we found the large flock of Kentish Plover–surprising, but not unprecedented, as we had counted a mega-flock of 800 on 28 Nov.

Sleeping White-bellied Green Pigeon, Nanhui. After Stephan Popp and I got this image, we backed away slowly, so as not to disturb the tired migrant.
Sleeping White-bellied Green Pigeon, Nanhui. After Stephan Popp and I got this image, we backed away slowly, so as not to disturb the tired migrant. (Craig Brelsford)

We found the White-bellied Green Pigeon at Microforest 4. In the Shanghai region, I had last noted Treron sieboldii on 24 Nov. 2012 on Lesser Yangshan. The beautiful pigeon was a lifer for everyone but me and set off a series of high-fives, made even more meaningful by the inauspicious beginning of our day. White-bellied Green Pigeon became the 259th species Elaine and I have noted in the Shanghai region since 11 Sept.

Development seems to be accelerating at Nanhui. Near the empty blue-roofed building, backhoes are moving great quantities of earth, and Microforest 8 has been destroyed. The line of reeds at the inner base of the sea wall has been mowed down.

Eastern Buzzard, Nanhui. Note the compact build, black carpal patches on underwings, black tips to primaries, and head that is paler than upperparts. Buteo japonicus is a common winter visitor to Shanghai.
Eastern Buzzard, Nanhui. Note the compact build, black carpal patches on underwings, black tips to primaries, and head that is paler than upperparts. Buteo japonicus is a common winter visitor to Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: White-bellied Green Pigeon Treron sieboldii, Cape Nanhui, 26 Dec.

83 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

On Sat. 31 Oct. 2015, Elaine and I once again birded with Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp, and Xueping Popp. We noted 83 species on one of the best days I have ever had birding in Shanghai. Japanese Scops Owl was in Microforest 1 at Nanhui and attracted a crowd of photographers. Long-eared Owl greeted us within seconds of our arrival at the Magic GPS Point in Nanhui. We had Jack Snipe, Greater Scaup, Dalmatian Pelican, and 62 Black-faced Spoonbill.

Our day began on Lesser Yangshan. Seeing little to stir us, we made an early break for Nanhui. Within seconds of our arrival at the Magic GPS Point, we saw Long-eared Owl flying our way. The migrating owl alighted in some reeds, invisible to us, but not to the Vinous-throated Parrotbill. Recognizing their ancient enemy, the parrotbills cried out manically.

Impressive Long-eared Owl Asio otus is a Holarctic species, found both in Eurasia and North America.
Impressive Long-eared Owl Asio otus is a Holarctic species, found both in Eurasia and North America. (Craig Brelsford)

We drove to Shanghai Binhai Forest Park but found little of interest; the action is clearly smack-dab on the coast; once one is even a kilometer inland, the intensity of the birding experience wanes. We quickly headed back. The fields near an empty blue-roofed building were covered with brush and were jumping with buntings. Here we found the Jack Snipe as well as Peregrine Falcon, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, Chestnut-eared Bunting, and the endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola is an endangered species. Huge numbers of these birds are trapped in their wintering grounds, which includes southern China.
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola is an endangered species. Huge numbers of these birds are trapped in their wintering grounds, which includes southern China. (Craig Brelsford)

Back at the microforests, we had season’s first Goldcrest plus an array of thrushes drawn in part by the precious cover these tiny stands of trees provided and also by the mealworms thrown liberally on the ground by the photographers. A female Japanese Thrush was a good catch by us, and we had Eyebrowed Thrush. The Japanese Scops Owl never budged while enterprising photographers carefully cut away a branch that had been denying them a full-body shot.

Ruddy Shelduck was a first-of-season for Elaine and me. Hair-crested Drongo appeared again on our list. A long scan of the sea just beyond the wall revealed the scaup as well as hundreds of Eastern Spot-billed Duck, a few hundred Eurasian Teal, plus Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, and Northern Pintail.

The laughs just kept on rolling as we enjoyed our camaraderie as well as the great birds. “This is the best Christmas of my life–and it’s only Halloween!” I joked.

Weather: Wind steady from NE. Cloudy, but visibility good; Nanhui visible from Lesser Yangshan, and vice versa. High 20°C.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 31 Oct. 2015 (32 species)

Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Garbage Dump Coastal Plain (30.638860, 122.060089), Xiǎoyánglíng Cove (30.642243, 122.066940), & Temple Mount (30.639945, 122.048277). 07:10-09:30.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 14
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 4
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler P. proregulus 3
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 3
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 10
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 1
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 8
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 72
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 3
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 40
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 8
Little Bunting E. pusilla 4
Yellow-browed Bunting E. chrysophrys 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 31 Oct. 2015 (73 species)

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159); list includes birds found at Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782) and at Shanghai Binhai Forest Park (Shànghǎi Bīnhǎi Sēnlín Gōngyuán [上海滨海森林公园]; 30.966324, 121.910289). 10:10-16:30.

Taiga/Tundra Bean Goose Anser fabalis/A. serrirostris 12
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 5
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 30
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 120
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 1000
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 20
Northern Pintail A. acuta 30
Eurasian Teal A. crecca ca. 300
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 7
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 5
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 62
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea ca. 200
Great Egret A. alba 10
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 5
Little Egret E. garzetta ca. 200
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 3
Hen Harrier C. cyaneus 3
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 30
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 5
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 20
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 6
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 20
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 40
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 5
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 10
Japanese Scops Owl Otus semitorques 1
Long-eared Owl Asio otus 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 2
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 4
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis ca. 50
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 8
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 11
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 40
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 1
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 7
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 3
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 3
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 3
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 5
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 2
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 20
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 30
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 300
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 10
White Wagtail M. alba 8
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 20
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 15
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 20
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 8
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata 2
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 12
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 3

Featured image: Japanese Scops Owl Otus semitorques, Nanhui, Shanghai, 31 Oct. 2015.

Amazing Grey Nightjar!

This year I have been focusing less on photographing birds and more on classic birdwatching. I have learned birds more quickly but sometimes miss the creativity that comes with photography. On Sat. 17 Oct., I returned to photography with a Grey Nightjar. I was on Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, China.

Photographing a roosting Grey Nightjar is like photographing a rock. The bird doesn't move. It's therefore possible to get incredible close-ups. In this image, I aimed for as much detail as possible on the head. I wanted to illustrate the way in which the nightjar's head is exquisitely designed for camouflage and insect-catching. Look at the bristles around the bill!
Photographing a roosting Grey Nightjar is like photographing a rock. The bird doesn’t move. It’s therefore possible to get incredible close-ups. In this image, I aimed for as much detail as possible on the head. I wanted to illustrate the way in which the nightjar’s head is exquisitely designed for camouflage and insect-catching. Look at the bristles around the bill! (Craig Brelsford)

I was walking alone and noticed the nightjar resting on a bamboo pole. It was hiding in plain sight; a few minutes before, I’d passed that site and failed to see the nightjar. I crawled through brush to within 6.5 m of the bird. The goatsucker took little notice of me, never moving except to open its eye a little.

The moments with the nightjar filled me with pleasure. For those 20 minutes while I took the shots, there was nothing else in the world except this usually mysterious and elusive, now completely accessible and photographable, nightjar. I admired the beauty of the nightjar and the efficiency of its design. This Caprimulgid is a flying piece of bark and leaf litter, a creature designed to hide by day, relying on its near-perfect camouflage, and at dusk devour flying insects. The long bristles around its tiny bill are the tools it uses to feed.

Featured image: Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus jotaka. Nikon D3S, VR 600mm F/4G, F/14, 1/20, ISO 640, using mirror-up + cable and with camera mounted on Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod. (Craig Brelsford)

53 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

On Saturday 24 Oct. Elaine and I noted 53 species on Lesser Yangshan and at Nanhui. The most notable birds on Lesser Yangshan were Eurasian Wryneck, Hair-crested Drongo, and Hawfinch. We saw a “flock” of 3 Northern Boobook. At Nanhui, Eurasian Woodcock was found in the microforests along the sea wall. Brown-headed Thrush and Red-throated Thrush are uncommon passage migrants in the Shanghai region.

Once again, our team consisted of Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp and wife Xueping, and Elaine and me. The moment with the woodcock was team birding at its best. Walking along the road atop the sea wall, I stumbled upon the woodcock. It exploded from cover and left the forest. I immediately knew I had scared a brown non-thrush, but I hadn’t seen the long bill. “Brown bird!” I cried out. The woodcock appeared from behind a line of trees just long enough for Michael to see it. “Woodcock!” he cried out.

This migrating Eurasian Sparrowhawk appeared briefly over Lesser Yangshan. A China tick for Michael!
This migrating Eurasian Sparrowhawk appeared briefly over Lesser Yangshan. A China tick for Michael! (Craig Brelsford)

Weather: Hazy and warm, with a steady northeasterly wind. High 25°C.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 24 Oct. 2015 (35 species)

Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Garbage Dump Coastal Plain (30.638860, 122.060089), Xiǎoyánglíng Cove (30.642243, 122.066940), & Temple Mount (30.639945, 122.048277). 07:00-11:50.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Northern Boobok Ninox japonica 3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 4
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 5
Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 4
Japanese Tit Parus minor 3
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 3
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 8
Arctic-type leaf warbler P. borealis/P. examinandus/P. xanthodryas 3
Zosterops sp. 8
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 1
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 15
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 3
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 5
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 15
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 2
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 1
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 3
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2

Reptiles

snake sp. 1 black, fuzzily defined postocular eyestripe, long body, long head

Northern Boobook on Temple Mount, Lesser Yangshan. Ninox japonica is a regularly noted passage migrant in Shanghai.
Northern Boobook on Temple Mount, Lesser Yangshan. Ninox japonica is a regularly noted passage migrant in Shanghai.

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 24 Oct. 2015 (31 species)

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159); list includes birds found at Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782). 12:30-15:45.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 7
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 10
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 20
Little Egret Egretta garzetta ca. 100
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 30
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 4
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 5
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 8
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 4
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 1
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 1
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 6
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 20
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 2
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 3
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 2

Featured image: Xueping Popp (L) and Michael Grunwell (R) in one of the microforests on landward side of the levee at Nanhui. During migration season, these plantations of locust trees contain an astonishing number of woodland birds.