It’s April now and the sweet spot of migration season is about to be hit. In the Shanghai region, April and May are the two very best months, with the four weeks between 15 April and 15 May being the best time of all.
Here is a list of interesting birds that Elaine Du and I were finding last year around this time.
Japanese Reed Bunting seen on Chongming on 29 March 2015.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher: curiously, recorded only once by Elaine and me last spring (19 April, Nanhui)
Siberian Blue Robin: 9 April, Lesser Yangshan
Blue-and-white Flycatcher: recorded on 10 occasions between 12 April and 16 May 2015
Asian Brown Flycatcher had a sustained springtime presence, being recorded on 9 occasions from 9 April to 21 May 2015
Eastern Crowned Warbler: 9 April, Lesser Yangshan
Cuculus sp.: Lesser Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, and Indian Cuckoo more commonly noted in May; we had an early bird, not singing, on Hengsha on 18 April
Grey-headed Lapwing: aggressively defending territory on Chongming on 29 March. Hear their manic cries (01:33; 4.5 MB):
Curlew Sandpiper: near-threatened species first noted by us last year on 23 April at Yangkou
Red-necked Stint: 10 April, Chongming
Terek Sandpiper: 11 April, Yangkou
Last year in the Shanghai region, Elaine and I birded 32 of the 86 days between 29 March and 22 June, noting 243 species. The report we wrote about the experience is called Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2015. Feel free to use our report to get an indication of the birds you can find in springtime in the Shanghai area.
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!
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.
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.
List 1 of 2 for SAT 26 DEC 2015 (23 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), & Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327). Extremely smoggy in morning, clearing by midday. Visibility 0-10 km. Sunrise 06:46, sunset 16:53. Temp. 6°-12°C. 08:00-10:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 3
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 8
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 14
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 8
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 5
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 12
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 4
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 1
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 6
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 NightjarCaprimulgus 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)
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.
Weather: Hazy and warm, with a steady northeasterly wind. High 25°C.
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.