Sakhalin Leaf Warbler in Shanghai: A Clearer Picture

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

On 17 Sept. at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui, I achieved a personal first: photos of an unmistakable Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealoides. As expected, the photos show a leaf warbler whose plumage and bare parts are virtually indistinguishable from those of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes. Coupled, however, as they are with sound-recordings of the same individual, ensuring the ID, the photos constitute a rare visual record of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler in Shanghai.

The leaf warbler I found was easily identifiable as a member of the Pale-Sak species pair. It had strikingly pale pink tarsi, an olive-brown crown contrasting with olive-green mantle and wings, a long and creamy supercilium, and faint wing bars on the median and greater coverts.

The bird, which was in Microforest 1, behaved in a way typical of the Pale-Saks I have observed in the Cape Nanhui microforests, eight tiny woods that dot the coastline of the cape. Rarely venturing more than 2 m off the ground, the leaf warbler favored low branches and vines for browsing and sturdy low branches for perching. It pumped its tail steadily, called spontaneously, and upon hearing playback of its own call moved in to investigate the source.

Without recording the call of the leaf warbler (call as well as song being a diagnostic separator of Sakhalin and Pale-legged), would I have been able to get an ID? Almost certainly not, said leaf-warbler expert Phil Round:

“I am a bit less sanguine on finding means (other than call frequency or song) to separate all [Pale-Saks]. Even in the hand, it is by no means clear. We can pick out long-winged male Sakhalin, and short-winged female Pale-legged. But there is more overlap than previously realized, and most are in between. There don’t appear to be any 100% consistent wing-formula differences, and plumage and bare-part features, while somewhat indicative, are again less than 100% reliable—especially under field conditions” (Round, in litt., 2016; emphasis mine).

The most convenient separator of Pale-Sak is song, the cricket-like trill of Pale-legged being easily separable from the metallic whistle of Sakhalin. As Shanghai is not in the breeding range of either species, Pale-Sak songs are not often heard in Earth’s Greatest City. I have heard Sakhalin sing only once, on 5 May 2016 at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park (Brelsford, May 2016). The song of Pale-legged I have heard at various locations in Shanghai as well as on its breeding grounds in Heilongjiang (Brelsford, June 2016).

Although not as readily distinguishable as the songs, the “tink” calls of Pale-Sak differ markedly and consistently and are a reliable basis for an ID (Yap et al. 2014; Round et al. 2016; Weprincew et al. 1989). Yap et al. say the call of Pale-legged is of a “consistently higher frequency” than the call of Sakhalin. The calls that I have recorded of the two species show a difference in frequency of about 1 kHz, very much in line with others’ findings (Brelsford, August 2017; Brelsford, September 2017).

For birders unaccustomed to Pale-Sak calls, the difference may be hard to detect, especially at windy Cape Nanhui. A sound-recorder (which may be a smartphone) will pick up the difference, and an audio spectrogram will show it graphically. Solid, indisputable ticks, in some cases life ticks, await enterprising birders who sound-record.

In recent months, my work with sound-recordings has helped give Shanghai birders a clearer picture not only of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler but also of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus, like Sakhalin a poorly known passage migrant through Shanghai (Brelsford, June 2017). In the case of Pale-Sak in Shanghai, a picture is emerging of overlapping migratory pathways. This finding comports with the findings of Yap et al. at Beidaihe, a thousand kilometers to the north. After analyzing calls obtained at Beidaihe of both Pale-legged and Sakhalin, Yap hypothesizes that in coastal Hebei “the migratory pathways of the two sister species may largely overlap” (2014).

How extensive is the Pale-Sak migratory overlap in Shanghai? How many of the Pale-Saks that we find in Shanghai each spring and autumn are Pale-legged, and how many are Sakhalin? Is there a peak passage time in Shanghai for each species, and if so, when is it?

Answers to these questions are currently unknown, but they are probably knowable, and it is very much possible for the citizen-scientists of Shanghai to be the producers of that knowledge. We only need to change our habits. When it comes to identifying lookalike species such as Pale-legged and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, birders need to understand that photos do nothing to cut through the muddle. Only sound-recordings lead to indisputable records and a clearer picture of the species in Shanghai.

RESOURCES

The sound-recordings and audio spectrograms below show clearly the difference in frequency between the calls of Sakhalin and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealoides, Microforest 1 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, 17 Sept.  (01:03; 12.2 MB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes, Magic Parking LotCape Nanhui, 4 Sept. (00:19; 3.7 MB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Here are photos of the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler of 17 Sept. The bird below is the same individual whose voice I sound-recorded.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Microforest 1, Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, China, 17 Sept. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler shows the classic features of the Pale-Sak species pair, among them an olive-brown crown contrasting with olive-green mantle and wings, a long and creamy supercilium, and faint wing bars on the median and greater coverts. (Craig Brelsford)
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler
Like its sister species Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler has an affinity for sturdy, leafless branches. Here, the leaf warbler, drawn by playback of its own voice, is using the perch to investigate the source of the sound. (Craig Brelsford)
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler
Like Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler pumps its tail steadily, often remaining otherwise motionless. (Craig Brelsford)

REFERENCES

Brelsford, Craig. Sakhalin & Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Singing Together. Post to shanghaibirding.com published 5 May 2016 (accessed: 18 Jan 2020).

———. Kamchatka Leaf Warbler in Shanghai. Post to shanghaibirding.com published 6 June 2017 (accessed: 18 Jan 2020).

———. Separating Pale-legged & Sakhalin Leaf Warbler on Call. Post to shanghaibirding.com published 31 Aug. 2017 (accessed: 18 Jan 2020).

———. Pale-Sak Calls: An Addendum. Post to shanghaibirding.com published 10 Sept. 2017 (accessed: 18 Jan 2020).

———. Boli County, Heilongjiang, May-June 2016: Introduction. Post to shanghaibirding.com published 15 June 2016 (accessed: 18 Jan 2020).

Round, Philip D. E-mail message to Craig Brelsford, 18 Oct. 2016. Round’s e-mail message was originally cited in the shanghaibirding.com post “Pale-legged Leaf Warbler & the Shanghai Big 5,” published 26 Sept. 2016 (accessed: 18 Jan 2020).

Round, Philip D., Pierce, Andrew J., Saitoh, Takema, & Shigeta, Yoshimitsu. 2016. Addition of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides to Thailand’s Avifauna. Bulletin of the Japan Bird Banding Association 28: 9–21. Available here for download (708 KB) through shanghaibirding.com (accessed: 18 Jan 2020).

Weprincew, B. N., Leonowitsch, W. W. & Netschajew, W. A. 1989. Zur Lebensweise von Phylloscopus borealoides Portenko und Phylloscopus tenellipes Swinhoe. Mitteilungen aus dem Zoologischen Museum in Berlin 65 (Suppl.): 71–80. (German only)

Yap, F., Yong, D. L., Low, B., Cros, E., Foley, C., Lim, K. K. & Rheindt, F. E. 2014. First wintering record of the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler in South East Asia, with notes on vocalisations. BirdingASIA 21: 76–81.

Featured image: Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealoides, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, 17 Sept. Craig Brelsford photographed and sound-recorded this individual, getting a rare record of the poorly known species in Earth’s Greatest City.
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Pale-Sak Calls: An Addendum

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

In the wake of my recent post on distinguishing Pale-legged Leaf Warbler from Sakhalin Leaf Warbler by call, I have been hoping to find more members of this species pair in Shanghai. On 4 Sept. 2017 at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui, my hopes were fulfilled in a big way. At the Magic Parking Lot (30.884889, 121.968222), not one but both species were calling.

Below, the recordings I made with my Olympus DM-650 pocket recorder. The first Sakhalin recording was made at Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), 7.7 km north of the Magic Parking Lot on the coastal road. The others were made at the Magic Parking Lot.

Note the higher frequency of the calls of Pale-legged—on average a full kilohertz higher. The difference is discernible by the keen listener, but nothing tells the story better than the spectrograms.

To summarize what I argued in the previous post: The calls, as well as the very distinctive songs, of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler are diagnostic—that is, they differ markedly and consistently and are a reliable basis for an ID. The diagnosability of the calls of the two species has been affirmed by various researchers, among them Yap et al. (2014; Birding Asia 21: 76–81).

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealoides, call, Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, 4 Sept. 2017 (00:02; 528 KB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, call, Magic Parking Lot (30.884889, 121.968222), Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, 4 Sept. 2017 (00:07; 1.4 MB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes, call, Magic Parking Lot, 4 Sept. 2017 (00:19; 3.7 MB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, call, Magic Parking Lot, 4 Sept. 2017 (00:41; 7.9 MB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, call, Magic Parking Lot, 4 Sept. 2017 (00:10; 2 MB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, call, Magic Parking Lot, 4 Sept. 2017 (00:01; 332 KB)

Audio spectrogram of call of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Featured image: Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Jiangsu, May. Some of the salient characteristics of Pale-Sak are pointed out. Separating Pale-legged from Sakhalin on the basis of plumage and bare parts is not possible; because this bird was neither singing nor calling, it cannot be determined to which of the two species it belongs. (Craig Brelsford)
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Separating Pale-legged & Sakhalin Leaf Warbler on Call

Editor’s note: In the photo above, a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler emits its characteristic “tink” call in Microforest 4, Cape Nanhui, Pudong, 27 Aug. 2017. The tink call of Pale-legged is appreciably higher-pitched than that of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. Distinguishing the two calls is the subject of this post. — Craig Brelsford

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Last September, in “Pale-legged Leaf Warbler & the Shanghai Big 5,” I asserted that “Pale-legged Leaf Warbler is safely separable from Sakhalin Leaf Warbler only by song.” I was wrong. Call as well as song is a reliable separator. In this post, I am going to tell you how I arrived at this insight, and I will show you how you too can achieve clear, indisputable ticks of these tricky species through call alone.

Experts since at least as far back as 1989 have been arguing that Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides are separable not only by their distinctive songs but also by their calls. Thailand-based birder and shanghaibirding.com contributor Phil Round is among those making that argument. Round and his co-authors write: “[T]he call of P. tenellipes is markedly higher in frequency than that of P. borealoides” (Round et al., “Addition of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides to Thailand’s Avifauna,” downloadable through shanghaibirding.com).

If your ear is good, or even if your ear is just average and you have a sound-recorder, then you too can appreciate the higher frequency of the call of Pale-legged. A sound-recorder is important, because if you upload your recordings to databases such as eBird and the Macaulay Library, then you will be able to “see” the sound in the audio spectrogram.

Our first exhibit is the spectrogram of a call I sound-recorded of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler on 8 May 2016 in Cape Nanhui’s Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083). The frequency is 4.8 kilohertz, a number that matches closely the frequency of Sakhalin calls on xeno-canto.org.

Audio spectrogram of call of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

Here is the sound-recording:

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, call, Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), 8 May 2016 (00:15; 1 MB)

Now consider the spectrograms and sound-recordings of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler below. The spectrogram immediately below was recorded by me on 10 June 2016 in my wife Elaine Du’s hometown of Boli, Heilongjiang, part of the breeding range of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. The call (here a grace note) and song both clock in at about 6 kHz, a frequency a full 25 percent higher than the call of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and, as with Sakhalin, consistent with the frequencies of Pale-legged calls on xeno-canto.org.

Audio spectrogram of call plus song of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Here is the sound-recording:

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, call and song, Xidaquan National Forest (45.727751, 130.317316), Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016 (01:59; 6 MB)

The spectrogram below is of a brief sound-recording I made in Microforest 4 this past Sunday. The song element of this passage migrant is absent (though note that I have heard Pale-legged and Sakhalin singing in Shanghai in spring). The call has a frequency of 5.9 kHz and clearly belongs to Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

Audio spectrogram of call of Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

The sound-recording:

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, call, Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), 27 Aug. 2017 (00:01; 193 KB)

Why should you care about all this? Because prepared birders have a chance to get solid ticks of “Pale-Saks” that are merely calling and not necessarily singing. If you hear a Pale-Sak calling and trust your ear (or better yet, sound-record the call and later analyze the spectrogram), then you may be able to go beyond the safe, boring record of “Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler” to a more satisfying full tick.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes performing typical behaviors. Top panels: pumping tail vigorously while remaining otherwise motionless on a sturdy branch. Bottom panels: making the high-pitched ‘tink’ call, again on a thick branch. Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083, top panels) and Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635, bottom panels), Cape Nanhui, 27 Aug. 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Accurate, plentiful records from Shanghai will help researchers such as Round get a clearer picture of the movements and population of these understudied species. As Round et al. write: “Increased sampling of migrants may also resolve the differences in timing of passage between P. examinandus and P. borealis on the one hand, and P. borealoides and P. tenellipes on the other” (“Addition”; hyperlink mine).

Olympus DM-650
My Olympus DM-650

What’s more, you do not need to spend much or even know much to record good audio. My Olympus DM-650 costs less than US$250. I have no microphone other than the one built into my pocket recorder, and I possess no parabola. I record in lossless 48kHz .wav. The very scientific-looking spectrograms displayed in this post are generated automatically by eBird and Macaulay.

In Shanghai and throughout China, important facts about common birds such as Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler remain unknown. This ornithological semi-wilderness is both difficult and exciting. If we rise to the challenge and become better birders, then we will make new discoveries and blaze a trail of knowledge for future birders to follow.
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Greater Painted-snipe at Nanhui, Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Jiangsu

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

I birded 10-14 Aug. 2017 with visiting U.S. birder Bob Orenstein. We noted 107 species at coastal sites in Shanghai and southeastern Jiangsu. At Pudong’s Cape Nanhui on 13 Aug., Bob and I had a rare Shanghai record of Greater Painted-snipe (above) and an early record of Mandarin Duck. On 12 Aug. at Dongling (32.224520, 121.534355), an impressive site that I had never birded, we had critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 2605 endangered Great Knot. We saw 4 Nordmann’s Greenshank at Dongling and had 30 members of that endangered species 11 Aug. at the coastal birding area (32.757056, 120.952294) at Dongtai. We noted Himalayan Swiftlet at Dongling as well as on 10 Aug. at Cape Nanhui, where we also had Amur Paradise Flycatcher.

Dongling is only 185 km north of People’s Square in Shanghai, closer than the declining old hot spot of Yangkou (“Rudong”) and the Dongtai coastal areas. Through a steady rain 12 Aug., Bob and I found high-tide roosts containing seas of Great Knot plus a single lonely Spoon-billed Sandpiper in complete winter plumage.

Seeing so many Great Knot was extremely heartening. In stark contrast, however, was endangered Far Eastern Curlew, of which only 5 were noted. Unlike near-threatened Eurasian Curlew (130), which though not abundant at Dongling numbered in the thousands at coastal Dongtai, Far Eastern Curlew were abundant nowhere.

On 11 Aug. Bob and I birded the reclaimed area of eastern Hengsha Island. The place was a bustle of activity, even at 5:15 in the morning, with 18-wheelers and dump trucks rumbling by. Security was tight. Guards were stationed at every intersection and in roving vans, one of which stopped us. We told them our purpose was birding; they told us to leave.

Before getting kicked out, Bob and I enjoyed one of my best moments ever with near-threatened Reed Parrotbill. A mega-flock of about 50 birds, much larger than the flocks one sees in the smaller, and ever-shrinking, reedy areas at Cape Nanhui, was making a loud noise during a morning feed. The flock contained juveniles and adults and proved that, provided it has habitat in which to flourish, Reed Parrotbill is a common, even dominant, reed-bed specialist.

I sound-recorded the raucous parrotbills:

Reed Parrotbill, 31.307498, 121.895095, 11 Aug. 2017 (02:39; 30.7 MB)

Let’s look more closely at some of our birds.

Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis

Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 13 Aug. 2017. Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, China.
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis. We found the birds in a canal at Cape Nanhui, where they likely are breeding.

​With the help of local Chinese birders, Bob and I found a pair of Greater Painted-snipe in a thickly vegetated, trash-strewn canal. The shy birds were aware of our presence and nervous, but they held their ground. That behavior, in combination with a photo another Chinese birder took suggesting that the male is brooding, persuaded us that the pair has a nest. We moved quickly away and did not return.

Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer

Footage I got 11 Aug. at Dongtai figures prominently in this video I made comparing Nordmann’s Greenshank to Common Greenshank.

To further hone your Nordmann’s Greenshank ID skills, and to relive the exciting appearance in 2016 of Nordmann’s Greenshank in Shanghai, see my post, Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer!

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

Great Knot was the star of this four-wader movie I made at Dongling.

Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala

The video below records one of my closest encounters ever with “Swintail” Snipe. I found this individual 14 Aug. at the sod farm (31.103100, 121.829300) south of Pudong International Airport.

The video shows some of the characters distinguishing this species pair from Common Snipe. (The two species themselves are, except in extraordinary circumstances, indistinguishable from one another.)

As the autumn migration season progresses, the sod farm bears checking; on 3 Sept. 2016 at the farm, my partners and I had a rare Shanghai record of Common Ringed Plover.

​The video of the snipe as well as the other two videos embedded into this post were made with my combination of iPhone 6 plus PhoneSkope adapter plus Swarovski ATX-95. This powerful combination allows the videographer to shoot usable video from a great distance, allowing even a shy snipe to act naturally. (I never got closer than 40 m to the snipe.)

Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei

Amur Para Fly
Amur Paradise Flycatcher, Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635), 10 Aug. Among the indicators of Amur are the rufous upperparts and tail as well as the indistinct border between breast and belly. (Craig Brelsford)

It was an exciting moment 10 Aug. when Amur Paradise Flycatcher appeared in Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). In the photo above, note the indistinct border between the bluish hood and white belly and the two-tone coloration of the hood–darker blue head, lighter blue breast. In Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, the hood tends to be uniformly colored and the border between the hood and white breast more distinct.

With this year’s fall migration season getting into full swing, paradise flycatchers are going to be moving through Shanghai, and you may wish to improve your skills. For more on separating Amur Paradise Flycatcher from Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, see my post “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.”

Cuculus sp.

Adults and some juveniles are now moving through Shanghai. In a few weeks, nearly all adult Cuculus cuckoos will be gone, and we will be left with the juveniles. Cuckoos do not sing in autumn, and song of course is by far the best way of distinguishing among the Cuculus cuckoos of our region. I therefore almost invariably mark these silent birds “Cuculus sp.”

Let us say I assigned these silent cuckoos to Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Perhaps they were the size of a sparrowhawk (ruling out thrush-sized Lesser Cuckoo C. poliocephalus), and perhaps they even had yellow irides (ruling out dark-eyed Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus and providing yet more evidence against dark-eyed Lesser Cuckoo).

Even if my cuckoos passed these tests, unless they were singing the classic song (virtually unheard this time of year), how could I justify ID-ing them as Common? It is, of course, likely that some of them are Common, but how can one be sure that any given silent Cuculus cuckoo one is seeing is Common?

I refrain from making speculative species assignments. I refrain because we still do not know enough about the migration patterns in Shanghai of Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus and Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus.

Like so many of the woodland passerines that pass through Shanghai on migration, Oriental Cuckoo breeds in northeastern China. Like those woodland passerines, Oriental Cuckoo also may pass through Shanghai on migration. Oriental, of course, is very similar to Common, the two species having so many overlapping characters that a firm ID of non-photographed, non-singing birds is all but impossible; and Himalayan, which theoretically may be present in or near our region, is even more similar to Oriental (“virtually identical”—Mark Brazil, Birds of East Asia, p. 256).

In Shanghai it may be tempting to assign silent Cuculus cuckoos, particularly yellow-eyed adults, to Common Cuckoo. Before I ever started doing that, though, I would want to know more about Oriental Cuckoo and Himalayan Cuckoo in the Shanghai region. Maybe future studies, using captured cuckoos whose DNA has been analyzed, will reveal a surprising pattern of Cuculus migration in Shanghai. Maybe those studies will show that considerable numbers of Cuculus passage migrants are Oriental Cuckoo.

Until that day comes, I usually hold back from ID-ing non-singing Cuculus cuckoos.

For more information on Shanghai-area cuckoos, see my post, “The Cuckoos of Shanghai.”

Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris

Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 10 Aug. 2017. Near Cathedral of Birding at N end of Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), Cape Nanhui, Pudong, Shanghai, China.
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris near Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083). (Craig Brelsford)

​After being nearly unheard of in Shanghai as recently as a few years ago, Himalayan Swiftlet is now more and more regularly recorded in Shanghai in both spring and autumn.

Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.
Join Shanghai Birding for the very latest bird sightings in Shanghai.

The question arises of whether Himalayan Swiftlet has always been a scarce passage migrant and overlooked or whether its numbers are increasing in our area. It is of course also possible that both its numbers are increasing in our area and local birders’ skills and communication methods are improving.

That communication methods are improving is indisputable. One of the main causes of the improved communication is the WeChat group I founded, Shanghai Birding. The members of that group, who range from the newest of newbies to some of the most expert birders in China, regularly exchange sightings in real-time.

To join Shanghai Birding, friend me on WeChat (WeChat ID: craigbrelsford). Tell me that you wish to join Shanghai Birding. I’ll add you.

Here is the complete list of the birds noted by Bob Orenstein and me 10-14 Aug. 2017:

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata
Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Cinnamon Bittern I. cinnamomeus
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron A. purpurea
Great Egret A. alba
Intermediate Egret A. intermedia
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Pacific Golden Plover P. fulva
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis
Eurasian Curlew N. arquata
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Black-tailed Godwit L. limosa
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red Knot C. canutus
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta
Spoon-billed Sandpiper C. pygmea
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis
Sanderling C. alba
Dunlin C. alpina
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes
Spotted Redshank T. erythropus
Common Greenshank T. nebularia
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola
Common Redshank T. totanus
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi
Black-headed Gull C. ridibundus
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris
Little Tern Sternula albifrons
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
Spotted Dove S. chinensis
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Cuculus sp.
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach
Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula
Pale Martin Riparia diluta
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus
Japanese Tit Parus minor
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria
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Asian Dowitcher in Shanghai

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

On Sat. 5 Aug., I resumed birding at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui after a two-month hiatus. Battling apparent temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit), partner Ian Reid (above) and I noted 74 species. The haul was good, but even better was the insight it afforded me. Once again, I learned that when it comes to birding, the most southeasterly point of Earth’s Greatest City delivers month after month, season after season.

Ian and I had 3 juvenile Asian Dowitcher, the most notable among an all-star team of shorebirds that included 8 Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, 12 Broad-billed Sandpiper, and 3 Curlew Sandpiper still mainly in brick-red breeding plumage. A Red-necked Phalarope was making use of fallow rice paddies, and 6 Grey-tailed Tattler were on the mudflats near Donghai Bridge. We had unusual Nanhui records of Pied Kingfisher and Ruddy Shelduck.

The microforests were quiet, but a very early record of Eastern Crowned Warbler and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher offered a preview of the passerine party coming in September. We had four species of bittern: Eurasian Bittern, Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, and Black Bittern.

In my nearly 10 years in Shanghai, I had never birded Cape Nanhui in the first week of August. During Shanghai’s hottest month of the year, I am almost always birding in cooler climes—in Qinghai last year, for example, and in 2015 in my wife Elaine’s hometown in Heilongjiang.

Ian’s and my day both reminded me of the good reasons for vacating Shanghai this time of year and showed me the treasures I have been missing. Through the oppressive heat, which ensured that you would never stop sweating, and the 81-percent humidity, which ensured that the perspiration wouldn’t do much good, the Australian birder and I steadily built up an impressive list.

For all 74 species, see our eBird list. Below, our highlights.

Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus

Asian Dowitcher
Asian Dowitcher at South Pond, 5 Aug. Photo taken with iPhone 6 and PhoneSkope adapter attached to my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. (Craig Brelsford)

Our trio were juveniles, with their dark-brown crowns and buff-fringed, dark-brown upperparts. They were feeding together at South Pond (30.873934, 121.953180). The tide had hit the nearby sea wall and driven in small numbers of shorebirds of various species, among them Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea, Long-toed Stint C. subminuta, and Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus.

An East Asian specialty, Asian Dowitcher breeds in a disjointed set of ranges from western Siberia to Heilongjiang. The IUCN lists it as Near Threatened.

Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus

We found a single individual in the Cathedral of Birding, the broad, spacious northern end of Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083). This is a very early record of a species that, like so many other passerines on passage through the Shanghai region, does not begin to show up in impressive numbers until September. As with the dowitchers, when I saw this warbler, my initial reaction was, “What else have you been missing over the years for failing to bird Nanhui in early August?”

Nearby we had female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia, a less surprising record, as the species breeds in Jiangsu.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea

Ruddy Shelduck
Ruddy Shelduck, Cape Nanhui, 5 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)

Ruddy Shelduck in August is yet another unexpected record. We found a single individual associating with domestic waterfowl near the entrance to the defunct wetland reserve (30.920507, 121.973159). The species is uncommon in Shanghai at any time of year, with most records coming in winter.

Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this record is that it is surprising at all. Pied Kingfisher breeds throughout southern China, yet this record was my first of the species in Shanghai. A pair has been present at Cape Nanhui since at least July.

Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris

Eurasian Bittern
The boom of Eurasian Bittern is heard in Shanghai in spring. An August record is surprising. (Craig Brelsford)

Our first of the four species of bittern. We found 2.

Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis

Yellow Bittern
Yellow Bittern breeds in our area. (Craig Brelsford)

We found 24 of this local breeder along the length of the 30-km coastal road.

Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus

Cinammon Bittern
Cinnamon Bittern is another species that in Shanghai probably has been under-recorded over the years. (Craig Brelsford)

Found in habitats similar to Yellow Bittern, but in much smaller numbers (4).

Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis

Black Bittern
Black Bittern, Cape Nanhui, 5 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)

One was seen flying just north of Eiffel Tower (30.850531, 121.878047). This species has an affinity for swamps in forests and is uncommon in Shanghai. Saturday’s record was only my second in the city.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Common Kestrel
Juvenile Common Kestrel blundered into a confrontation with Black-winged Stilt. The youngster soon realized its error and went looking for littler prey. (Craig Brelsford)

A species common in Shanghai, noted here only because of the circumstances under which Ian and I found it. The first impression of “juvenile falcon” that I received came not from the plumage but from the blunders of the kestrel. The falcon got too close to some juvenile Black-winged Stilt–and found itself being chased off by an adult, a giant in comparison. This was clearly a rookie’s error and betrayed the inexperience of the attacker.

In the photo above, note the lightly streaked ear coverts, the lack of scythe-like wings (as in Eurasian Hobby), black remiges, and long tail with rounded tip. The strong black streaking on the underparts will grow thinner as the kestrel matures.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

A welcome addition to any Nanhui list, Falco peregrinus is usually recorded in Shanghai in autumn and winter. Sharp-eyed Ian spotted the falcon roosting in an area that used to contain reed beds but has since been flattened by the backhoes into a savanna-like landscape. I got video on my iPhone through the spotting scope.

Featured image: Australian birder Ian Reid scans the mudflats at Cape Nanhui, Pudong, 5 Aug. In the background is Donghai Bridge. (Craig Brelsford)
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