Eastern Crowned Warbler Singing in Shanghai

In Shanghai, the best birding occurs on the coast, 80 km from the city center. Getting there can be a chore. Birding Pudong’s Century Park, by contrast, only requires a ride on Metro Line 2. Your day list from Century will only be about a third as long as a list from Cape Nanhui, but good birding can occur there, and at little cost.

On Sat. 15 April 2017, my partners Larry Chen, Komatsu Yasuhiko (“Hiko”), Hiko’s biology teacher Zeng Qiongyu, and I had a bout of good birding at Century Park.

I had never heard Eastern Crowned Warbler sing in Shanghai. I am however very familiar with the song, because in my wife Elaine Du’s hometown of Boli, Heilongjiang, the song of Eastern Crowned Warbler is one of the most common sounds in the remnant Manchurian forest.

We were in the heavily wooded area near Gate 7 when I heard the wheezy song. It sounded like this recording I made in Heilongjiang:

Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus, 2 June 2016, Xidaquan National Forest (45.727751, 130.317316), Boli, Heilongjiang (00:03; 922 KB)

It was just a snatch of song, and it occurred but once. I knew immediately that it was Eastern Crowned Warbler. The song was coming from the surprisingly high canopy of the wood.

The four of us strained to find the bird. The sun shone brightly through the canopy and into our eyes. Finally, Hiko saw movement. Through the glare we focused in and got a clear view of Eastern Crowned.

It was a shot of birding as good and satisfying as I get anywhere. And it just goes to show—good birding can occur anywhere, even in a busy city park.

Eastern Crowned Warbler, 30 Sept. 2014, Yangkou. Craig Brelsford.
Eastern Crowned Warbler, 30 Sept. 2014, Yangkou (Rudong), Jiangsu. One of the Big 5 Leaf Warblers of Shanghai, Phylloscopus coronatus is a common autumn and spring passage migrant in Shanghai. It is usually silent in Shanghai, but on 15 April 2017, I heard one sing in Century Park. Migrating birds often sing snatches of song far from their breeding grounds. On 7 April 2016, also at Century Park, I heard White’s Thrush sing. (Craig Brelsford)
Eastern Crowned Warbler, Xidaquan National Forest, 29 May 2016.
Singing Eastern Crowned Warbler, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang. Elaine’s hometown is in the middle of the breeding range of Eastern Crowned Warbler, and the song of this species is one of the most common sounds in the remnant Manchurian forest. Elaine and I have birded Boli on three occasions, most recently in May-June 2016. I got these photos on the third trip, on 29 May 2016.

Featured image: Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, September. (Craig Brelsford)

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Rites of Spring

For birders in Earth’s greatest city, finding Oriental Plover is one of the rites of spring. On Sun. 26 March 2017 on Shanghai’s Hengsha Island, our three-man birding team tracked down 25 of these passage migrants. The encounter was the latest in a series of interesting experiences I have had with the East Asian specialty.

Along with Shanghai birders Michael Grunwell and Komatsu Yasuhiko, I drove on Saturday night 25 March to Changxing Island, crossing to Hengsha on the ferry. We set up for the night at my accustomed bed and breakfast, Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿, +86 150-2164-5467, no English).

At 05:40 the next morning we zipped through the gate (31.297333, 121.859434) to the vast reclaimed area of Hengsha Island. Formerly intertidal shoals at the mouth of the Yangtze River, the area, now walled in, offers some of the best birding in Shanghai.

Michael and Hiko had no experience with Oriental Plover. I have seen the species various times. One of the highlights of my early birding career occurred on 29 March 2010. On a cool, early-spring afternoon at the old sod farm (31.205847, 121.777368) at Sanjiagang in Pudong, I lay on my belly in the presence of 30 Oriental Plover. What an unforgettable experience that was.

The sod farm has long since been destroyed, but memories of those times, as well as my observations of the species on its breeding grounds near Hulun Lake in Inner Mongolia, still live in me, and they told me where to look for the bird. One needs to find habitat reminiscent of the dry, stony steppe on which the species breeds.

On Hengsha, such habitat is abundant, and we scoured all the likely spots, among them the place where my wife Elaine Du and I found 3 Oriental Plover last April 9.

Oriental Plover habitat at Hengsha (top) and Inner Mongolia (bottom). Top: Hiko. Bottom: Craig Brelsford
Oriental Plover habitat on Hengsha Island (top) and in Inner Mongolia (bottom). Note the similarities between the flat, grassy area on Hengsha Island and the steppe near Hulun Lake. A migrating Oriental Plover, especially one that may have flown virtually non-stop from Australia, sees the scene at top and thinks of home. Top: Komatsu Yasuhiko, 26 March 2017, 31.301475, 121.917442. Bottom: Craig Brelsford, 24 July 2015, 48.254637, 118.338622.

We were driving along the coastal road that skirts the southern edge of the reclaimed area. The morning was hazy, with air pollution giving me the sniffles, but even with the reduced visibility one could appreciate the power of the Yangtze looming behind.

Here, the longest river in Asia releases into the East China Sea the water collected along its course of 6,300 km (3,915 mi.). On clear days, one can see the famous skyline of Pudong, 38 km (24 mi.) away. At Hengsha Island, one stands on the eastern edge of Eurasia at the mouth of China’s greatest river in the shadow of Earth’s greatest city.

As we drove, the reed beds and marshy areas began to recede, and there opened up before us drier, grassier habitat, perfect for Oriental Plover. Stopping the car, I intoned, in a voice recalling Brigham Young, “This is the place.” (The coordinates are 31.301475, 121.917442.)

Michael Grunwell views Oriental Plover on Hengsha Island, 26 March 2017 (Komatsu Yasuhiko).
Michael Grunwell views Oriental Plover in steppe-like habitat on Hengsha Island. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

We broke out a forest of tripods and set upon them our spotting scopes. Michael, the seasoned veteran, saw the plovers first. Continuing our Wild West theme, Michael shouted, “Eureka!” His head was motionless, glued to the scope, but his arms were waving, and he was dancing a jig.

Michael and Hiko moved in for a closer look. I stayed above, scanning the scene through my Swarovski ATX-95. Males and females were in partial breeding plumage. They were running fast across the turf, picking off invertebrates. Twice they flew, and I appreciated their powerful, erratic flight and long wings.

We found 16 Oriental Plover there. We found another 9 on the north shore of the reclaimed area, on the mudflats.

NOTES ON ORIENTAL PLOVER

Oriental Plover breeds mainly in Mongolia. The breeding range extends into China in Hulunbeier, the northernmost portion of Inner Mongolia. In Shanghai, Charadrius veredus is an uncommon springtime passage migrant.
Oriental Plover breeds mainly in Mongolia. The range extends into China in Hulunbeier, the northernmost prefecture of Inner Mongolia. In Shanghai and at various places along the Chinese coast, Charadrius veredus is an uncommon springtime passage migrant. Autumn records are scanty, and the migration route of Oriental Plover south through China is not entirely clear. (Wikipedia/Craig Brelsford)

Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus is listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. A survey in 2010 came up with an estimated world population of 160,000, an encouraging number. The species is helped by the sparse human population both in the area where it breeds (mainly Mongolia) and where it winters (mainly Australia).

The species may be helped as well by its migration patterns. There is evidence that migrating Oriental Plover overfly much of Southeast Asia and possibly even China, areas where the hand of man is much heavier than in Mongolia and Australia.

In the entry for Oriental Plover in Handbook of the Birds of the World, T. Piersma mentions a “scarcity of records between China and the non-breeding grounds,” suggesting that migrating Oriental Plover make a “non-stop flight between these two zones.” Robson, in Birds of Southeast Asia, describes Oriental Plover as a “vagrant/rare passage migrant.”

Piersma says Oriental Plover is “very abundant” on migration in the Yangtze River Valley. That is doubtful. Oriental Plover is certainly not abundant in Shanghai; indeed, in autumn the species is virtually unrecorded here (as well as in much of eastern China). The city may nonetheless serve as a staging area for some portion of the species in spring.

My anecdotal evidence may lend credence to the idea that Oriental Plover fly mind-boggling distances between Australia and Mongolia. During my close encounter with the 30 Oriental Plover at Sanjiagang, the plovers were clearly exhausted. Some fell asleep right in front of me. How many kilometers had they just flown? Hundreds? Thousands?

Oriental Plover is most closely related to, and was once considered conspecific with, Caspian Plover Charadrius asiaticus. Breeding male Oriental Plover is readily distinguishable from Caspian by its purely white head. The thick black breast band on breeding Oriental male is also distinctive.

Non-breeding Greater Sand Plover and Lesser Sand Plover are smaller and more compact and have narrower breast bands than non-breeding Oriental Plover. In flight, Oriental Plover lacks the white wing bar seen on the sand plovers.

PHOTOS OF ORIENTAL PLOVER

A male Oriental Plover in partial breeding stands at Sanjiagang, 29 March 2010. Every year from about the third week of March until the middle of April, Charadrius veredus passes through Shanghai en route to its breeding grounds in Mongolia. For Shanghai birders, seizing the opportunity to view this East Asian specialty is an annual rite of spring. Craig Brelsford.
A male Oriental Plover in partial breeding plumage stands at the old sod farm (31.205847, 121.777368) at Sanjiagang, Pudong, 29 March 2010. Every year from the third week of March until the middle of April, Charadrius veredus passes through Shanghai en route to its breeding grounds in Mongolia. For Shanghai birders, seizing the brief opportunity to view this East Asian specialty is a rite of spring. (Craig Brelsford)
Oriental Plover, 29 March 2010, Sanjiagang (Craig Brelsford).
Oriental Plover, 29 March 2010, sod farm, Sanjiagang. Lying on the cool grass in the presence of those serene long-distance travelers, I felt I had entered birding heaven. (Craig Brelsford)
Oriental Plover doze just meters away from the photographer at Sanjiagang, 29 March 2010. It is probable that these plovers had just completed a very long flight, possibly all the way from Australia, before landing here. Craig Brelsford.
Exhausted Oriental Plover doze just meters away from the photographer at Sanjiagang, 29 March 2010. These plovers had probably just completed a very long leg of the journey from Australia to Mongolia. (Craig Brelsford)
The pure white head of breeding male Oriental Plover is diagnostic. Sanjiagang, 2 April 2010. Craig Brelsford.
This male Oriental Plover has nearly attained full breeding plumage. Note the diagnostic white head, still showing some of the darker non-breeding feathers. Sanjiagang, 2 April 2010. (Craig Brelsford)
Oriental Plover, 23 April 2010, Sanjiagang. (Craig Brelsford)
Oriental Plover, 23 April 2010. This photo was taken at a place once reliable for Charadrius veredus: the old sod farm at Sanjiagang, 6.5 km (4 mi.) north of Pudong Airport (31.205847, 121.777368). The farm has been destroyed, but on Shanghai’s Hengsha Island, steppe-like habitat required by Oriental Plover remains. (Craig Brelsford)

WORKS CONSULTED

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Oriental Plover, p. 164.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Vol. 3, “Hoatzin to Auks.” Species accounts for Oriental Plover and Caspian Plover (p. 438) by T. Piersma.

John MacKinnon wrote the most influential field guide ever published about China's birds.
In December 2016, John MacKinnon published his second guest post for shanghaibirding.com.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Oriental Plover, p. 178. Authors mention Hulun Lake as breeding area for species. Curiously, Liaoning is also mentioned.

Message, Stephen & Don Taylor. Waders of Europe, Asia and North America. Oriental Plover, pp. 66 & 152.

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Oriental Plover, p. 106. Consulted to get a better idea of the rarity of Oriental Plover in Southeast Asia.

Svensson, Lars & Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 1999-2009. Caspian Plover, p. 142.

Featured image: On 29 March 2010, Craig Brelsford found 30 exhausted Oriental Plover at the old sod farm at Sanjiagang (31.205847, 121.777368), 6.5 km (4 mi.) north of Pudong Airport in Shanghai. I got the image here, as well as all my plover images in this post, with my old Nikon D300 plus Nikkor 600mm f/4 lens.

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Loons Near Pudong Airport

Black-throated Loon and Red-throated Loon have been found at a little-birded recreational area in Pudong, and Slaty-backed Gull has appeared on the Huangpu River across from the Bund. All three species are rare in Earth’s Greatest City, with Black-throated Loon the scarcest. All three were brought to light by Shanghai birders using social media.

Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata, Sanjiagang Water Park, March 2017. Photo by Kai Pflug.
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata, Sanjiagang Seaside Park (31.217928, 121.768172). Photo by Kai Pflug. On Sun. 19 March 2017, a day after Michael Grunwell and I viewed it, this loon was discovered dead at the water park. It may have been a victim of poisoning through the ingestion of oil that had collected on its feathers. (Kai Pflug)

The loons had been sighted numerous times before my partner Michael Grunwell and I arrived on Sat. 18 March 2017 at Sanjiagang Seaside Park (31.217928, 121.768172). The dilapidated recreation area is on the coast of the East China Sea, near the mouth of the Yangtze River, 9 km north of Pudong Airport. Chinese birders discovered the loons, and birder Larry Chen, his partners Komatsu Yasuhiko and Archie Jiang, and bird photographer Kai Pflug followed up, reporting back to our chat group, Shanghai Birding.

On Sun. 19 March, the Red-throated Loon was discovered dead at the park by local birder Suōyǔ Hè (蓑羽鹤). It is not clear what killed the bird, but it may have slowly poisoned itself by ingesting oil that had collected on its feathers. Larry said that during his encounters with the individual “The loon was constantly attempting to preen itself” and that he clearly saw oil on one of its flanks. Can you detect anything amiss in the video below?

Red-throated Loon breeds at latitudes above 50 degrees in Eurasia and North America. Wintering Gavia stellata is more common in Shanghai than Black-throated Loon, being recorded annually here. Michael, my wife Elaine Du, and I found Red-throated Loon at Cape Nanhui in January 2016.

The feet of loons are placed far back on their body. Their resulting ungainliness on land is obvious even on a resting loon, as here. Laotieshan, Liaoning, 18 Sept. 2013. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
The feet of loons are placed far back on the bulky body, making loons powerful divers and clumsy walkers. Note the dagger-like bill, elongated head, and thick neck, characteristic of all five species in the loon family Gaviidae. I found this Black-throated Loon on 18 Sept. 2013 at Laotieshan, Liaoning (38.730483, 121.134018). (Craig Brelsford)

Black-throated Loon is also known as Black-throated Diver and Arctic Loon. Gavia arctica breeds across northern Eurasia and into Alaska. It is an uncommon winter visitor all along the coast of China and is very rarely noted in Shanghai, with the last previous record in 2012. Before the encounter Saturday, I had seen Black-throated Loon only once, on 18 Sept. 2013 at Laotieshan (38.730483, 121.134018) in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Here is video of Black-throated Loon at Sanjiagang Seaside Park.

GULLING WITH BIRDERS IN MY POCKET

Michael Grunwell viewing gulls on Huangpu River, 18 March 2017. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Michael Grunwell views gulls Saturday at Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863). (Craig Brelsford)

On Sat. 18 March at Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863), with the Pudong skyline looming behind, Michael Grunwell and I scanned the gulls on the Huangpu River.

“I think we’ve found Slaty-backed!” Michael cried.

With my iPhone I took photos of the gull through my scope and uploaded the photos to Shanghai Birding, the chat group I manage on the instant-messaging application WeChat. Within minutes the experts in my pocket started weighing in. Shenzhen birder Jonathan Martinez and Larry Chen, both strong gullers, confirmed Michael’s ID. Michael and I had a life bird!

By its second winter, Slaty-backed Gull (C) shows a mantle darker than that of all other gulls in our region. Note the contrast in mantle color between Larus schistisagus and the adult Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus surrounding it. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6 and PhoneSkope adapter attached to my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope.
By its second winter, Slaty-backed Gull (C) shows a saddle a darker shade of grey than that of all other gulls in East Asia. Note here the contrast between the slate-grey of Larus schistisagus (top inset) and the lighter grey of the other gulls, all adult Vega Gull L. vegae vegae/mongolicus (bottom inset). UPDATE, 18 APR 2017: In a guest post for shanghaibirding.com about the Widespread Herring-type Gulls of East Asia, Nial Moores says the gull far L is Taimyr Gull L. (heuglini) taimyrensis. Photo taken using iPhone 6 and PhoneSkope adapter attached to Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. (Craig Brelsford)

Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus breeds on islands and cliffs on the coast of the Russian Far East (particularly the Kamchatka Peninsula) as well as Hokkaido. Wintering Slaty-backed are common in Japan, less common in northern coastal China, and rare in Shanghai.

Slaty-backed Gull, 2nd winter, Huangpu River, Shanghai 18 March 2017.
Slaty-backed Gull, Shanghai. Note the angular head, stout bill, and short, thick, bubblegum-pink legs. (Craig Brelsford)
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JOIN US ON SHANGHAI BIRDING

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PHOTOS

Vega/Mongolian Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus, Binjiang Park (31.240195, 121.490717), Shanghai, China, 18 March 2017. © 2017 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com)
Mongolian Gull Larus vegae mongolicus, Binjiang Park (31.2356935, 121.4973863), 18 March. Tag says ‘AL 62.’ I am looking into the origin of the tag and will update this post when I get more information. This is yet another photo taken with my iPhone 6 + PhoneSkope + Swarovski ATX-95. UPDATE, 22 MAR 2017: Thank you to Nial Moores from Birds Korea for showing me this page about a wing-tagging program for gulls from 2004 in northeastern Mongolia. It is highly possible that the gull above is part of that program. UPDATE, 24 MAR 2017: Gull researcher Andreas Buchheim has written me saying that he himself ringed gull AL 62 on 27 May 2013 at Telmen Lake (48.8, 97.25) in NW Mongolia. Telmen Lake is 2,820 km (1,752 miles) from Shanghai’s Binjiang Park. Buchheim said that when he ringed AL 62, it was already an adult. This means that AL 62 hatched no later than spring 2010 and that the youngest it could be is nearly 7 years old. All large, white-headed gulls breeding in Mongolia, Buchheim said, are mongolicus. Regarding our mongolicus, Nial Moores from Birds Korea said, ‘This individual shows more obvious yellowish tones to the legs than most/any we see here in Korea (where they are invariably pinkish-legged). It is known that some Mongolians on the breeding grounds have yellowish tones to the legs—so perhaps this difference between birds in Shanghai and Korea is to do with hormonal condition pre-migration. It tends to be several degrees colder in Korea than in Shanghai on the same dates, of course.’ (Craig Brelsford)
Shanghai Birder KaneXu (L), and Michael Grunwell share a laugh after discovering that they both own the same model of camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900S.
Shanghai birders KaneXu (L) and Michael Grunwell share a laugh after discovering that they own the same camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900S. The two were at Sanjiagang Seaside Park on 18 March. When it comes to compact cameras, Nikon and other manufacturers are feeling the heat from smartphones. They know that consumers are turning away from compact cameras because the cameras in smartphones are now so good. They are therefore loading up compact cameras such as the P900S with plenty of power and pricing them competitively. KaneXu and Michael are getting great stills as well as video with their new cameras. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Black-throated Loon Gavia arctica, Laotieshan, Liaoning, China, 18 Sept. 2013. (Craig Brelsford)

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Possible Manchurian Reed Warbler at Cape Nanhui

On 18 Dec. 2016, a quartet of teenage birders found an acrocephalid in the Magic Parking Lot at Cape Nanhui, the nubby promontory in Pudong and Shanghai’s best birding hotspot. The consensus is that the bird is either Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola or Manchurian Reed Warbler A. tangorum.

In the images below, note the supercilium, which extends behind the eye; dark eye-line; bright white chin and throat; peach breast band and flanks; bill with black upper mandible and pink lower mandible; and peaked head. Those criteria most closely indicate Manchurian Reed Warbler and Paddyfield Warbler.

Paddyfield Warbler winters mainly in India and would be extralimital here; Manchurian Reed Warbler breeds in northeastern China, is listed as Vulnerable and is therefore scarce, and probably passes through Shanghai.

Congratulations to Andy Lee, Komatsu Yasuhiko, Larry Chen, and Archie Jiang for this great Shanghai record.

This Acrocephalus warbler was found at the Magic Parking Lot at Nanhui on 18 Dec. 2016. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko.
This acrocephalid warbler, most likely Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola or Manchurian Reed Warbler A. tangorum, was found at the Magic Parking Lot at Cape Nanhui on 18 Dec. 2016 by Andy Lee, Komatsu Yasuhiko, Larry Chen, and Archie Jiang. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, 2009.

Kennerley, Peter & David Pearson. Reed and Bush Warblers. Christopher Helm, 2010.

My Interview on Pudong TV

On Thurs. 15 Dec. 2016 at Cape Nanhui, my wife Elaine Du and I did an interview with Pudong TV in Chinese. The segment will last five minutes and be aired later this month. In the interview I lamented the losses at Nanhui and spoke glowingly of the possibilities.

Meanwhile, John MacKinnon, co-author of the most famous bird guide in the history of China and author of a recent post for shanghaibirding.com, has expressed interest in the establishment of an easily accessible, world-class wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui.

MacKinnon asked me for the reasoning behind a wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui. I wrote the following:

THE CASE FOR AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE, WORLD-CLASS WETLAND RESERVE AT CAPE NANHUI, PUDONG, SHANGHAI

I created four images to bolster the case for a wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui. Here is the first. Satellite map © Google and customized by Craig Brelsford.
I created four images to bolster the case for a wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui. Here is the first. Satellite image © 2016 Google. Customized by Craig Brelsford.

(1) Cape Nanhui is of extraordinary environmental importance. The tip of the Shanghai Peninsula between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay, Cape Nanhui is a stepping stone for birds migrating across those bodies of water. Cape Nanhui also holds large reed beds, habitat critical to Reed Parrotbill, Marsh Grassbird, and other species at risk.

The largest component of the city-province of Shanghai is the Shanghai Peninsula, a projection of land between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay. Cape Nanhui is the tip of the peninsula, is a critically important stop for migrating birds, and is completely unprotected. A nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would form a third stepping stone for birds crossing the mouth of the Yangtze, joining the reserves at Chongming Dongtan and Jiuduansha.

The Red Sector encompasses the defunct wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui. Despite being completely unmanaged and unprotected, the site still attracts many important migratory birds, among them Black-faced Spoonbill. Satellite map © Google and customized by Craig Brelsford.
The Red Sector encompasses the defunct wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui. Despite being completely unmanaged and unprotected, the site still attracts many important migratory birds, among them Black-faced Spoonbill. Satellite image © 2016 Google. Customized by Craig Brelsford.

The 2 Red-crowned Crane seen on Sat. 10 Dec. 2016 were the latest in a parade of endangered birds that I and other birders have noted at the Cape over the years. Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper uses Cape Nanhui, as does Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. Around 2 percent of the world’s Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill are dependent on Cape Nanhui for several months each year. Large reed beds remain at Cape Nanhui and are the final strongholds on the Shanghai Peninsula of Near Threatened Marsh Grassbird and Near Threatened Reed Parrotbill. The latter species, a candidate for Shanghai Provincial Bird, will virtually disappear from mainland Shanghai if the reed beds at Nanhui are destroyed.

(2) Shanghai is clearly under-performing on the conservationist front. More must be done, and a good place to begin is Cape Nanhui.

Marsh Grassbird still sing in the Yellow Sector. Satellite map © Google and customized by Craig Brelsford.
Marsh Grassbird still sing in the Yellow Sector. (Google/Craig Brelsford)

Nature reserves have been established only on the extreme fringes of the city-province (which is a third the size of Wales). There are no reserves in mainland Pudong, a giant coastal district nearly twice the size of Singapore. Nowhere in this megalopolis can residents without a car enjoy the natural side of Shanghai, a city with an extraordinarily rich natural heritage. There is no known plan to conserve any of the dozens of square kilometers of reclaimed land on Hengsha.

(3) Because it is in the back yard of Shanghai, a city-province of more than 25 million people, a well-run, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could be the match to light the fire of conservation across all China.

Hundreds of thousands of middle-class children could visit the reserve with their parents using nothing more than the Metro and a quick taxi ride and be sleeping in their own bed that night, dreaming about the wild birds they had seen that day. For millions of parents and their kids, the weekend could be “Saturday, Disney; Sunday, Cape Nanhui Wetland.” A day at a Cape Nanhui Wetland would be an early introduction to the glories of natural Shanghai and would foster an appreciation of the natural world.

Fourth of four images showing the possible ways of preserving Cape Nanhui. Satellite map © Google and customized by Craig Brelsford.
Continued land reclamation could spell trouble at Nanhui. (Google/Craig Brelsford)

If Shanghai can be a world economic center and have world-class airports and a world-class skyline and world-class entertainment such as Disney, then it can and must have an easily accessible, world-class reserve protecting its priceless coastline, reed beds, and migratory birds.

A world-class, easily accessible, wetland nature reserve at Cape Nanhui would become a mecca for birders and achieve world renown, as has been the case with similar reserves such as Mai Po at Hong Kong and Sungei Buloh in Singapore.

INDEX TO POSTS ON SAVING NANHUI

Messengers (recent records of endangered cranes in Shanghai show the need to protect more land in the city-province)
The Case for Conserving Nanhui (foreigners can’t do all the work; local Chinese need to step up, too)
Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve! (cri de coeur plus call to action)
Remnants (preparation for probable demise of Cape Nanhui)
Reed Parrotbill, Symbol of Shanghai (naming Reed Parrotbill Provincial Bird of Shanghai will send a message about the importance of the reed beds such as those at Cape Nanhui)
Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Nanhui (proof of yet another endangered species using the defunct wetland reserve at Nanhui)

Unusual Autumn Appearance of Narcissus Flycatcher in Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park

A male Narcissus Flycatcher made a rare late-autumn Shanghai appearance in Zhongshan Park (31.221888, 121.420066). On Tues. 15 Nov. 2016, the spectacle attracted 30 photographers.

The flycatcher was attracted by mealworms speared by photographers onto a soft steel wire. The wire was hung from a branch, enticing the flycatcher to hover to snatch the bait. The bird was appearing every 10 minutes.

I expressed concern but did not feel the need to be critical or intervene. The photographers obviously liked the flycatcher, did not think that they were harming it, and were enjoying themselves immensely.

I watched the flycatcher attack the mealworms. I think it unlikely that the wire would harm the bird. The bigger problem may be that the free protein will keep the bird here an unnaturally long time. A passage migrant through Earth’s largest city, Narcissus Flycatcher should be in Borneo by now.

Photographers assemble before a setup designed to attract a male Naricissus Flycatcher at Zhongshan Park, 15 Nov. 2016.
Photographers assemble before a setup designed to attract a male Narcissus Flycatcher at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park, 15 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

The Shanghai Skua

Found at Cape Nanhui on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016: Pomarine Skua (called Pomarine Jaeger in North America). This first record for Shanghai was discovered by local birder Hé Xīn (何鑫) in the defunct nature reserve 1.4 km inland from the East China Sea. Kai Pflug was also on hand. Hé Xīn and Kai spread the news through our Shanghai Birding WeChat group, and the next day Elaine Du and I found the skua at the same spot (30.921625, 121.958940). The skua stayed four days, until Sat. 22 Oct.

The seabird appeared healthy, alternately feeding, preening, and roosting. Its plumage was shiny, and I saw no evidence of injury. It was a healthy refugee blown west by Typhoon Haima.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Look into the eyes of a predator. For many a lemming on the Arctic breeding grounds, this cold stare is the last sight they will ever see. National Geographic calls Pomarine Skua a ‘bulky brute with a commanding presence … a Rottweiler among the jaegers.’ (Craig Brelsford)

As sightings of skuas on the Chinese coast are rare, and because skuas have a bewildering array of plumages, at first there was some confusion about the species of our bird. It soon became clear that the vagrant was either Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus or Arctic Skua (IOC: Parasitic Jaeger) S. parasiticus. But which?

POMARINE ID BASICS

To answer that question, we needed photos, and so on Thurs. 20 Oct. Elaine and I drove to Cape Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Pudong.

We quickly found and photographed the bird. After examining our images, talking to other birders, and studying the books, we determined that it is a pale-morph adult pomarinus in non-breeding plumage. Here’s why:

— S. pomarinus is larger and bulkier than the other jaegers (small skuas), in particular the jaeger that it most resembles, S. parasiticus. The jaeger we found was large and bulky.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus. This heavy-set jaeger appears bulkier before the legs than behind. Note its bull neck, barrel chest, and short tail. Size is about equal to Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris (Brazil). S. parasiticus is equally bulky before and behind the legs, is longer-necked and less pot-bellied, and has a longer tail. (Craig Brelsford)

National Geographic describes pomarinus as a “bulky brute with a commanding presence [and a] thick bull-neck—a Rottweiler among the jaegers.” S. pomarinus, Geographic adds, “is the bulkiest [jaeger] and appears pot-bellied and very deep at the chest. … Often it appears there is more body before the wing than behind the wing.”

The image above is in line with that description. Below, another image illustrating the bulky shape and barrel chest.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
The skua family (Stercorariidae) is monogeneric; all seven species are in the genus Stercorarius. In the United States and Canada, the smallest three Stercorarius are called jaegers, a convention followed by the IOC. The largest of the jaegers is Pomarine, the next-largest is Arctic Skua/Parasitic Jaeger, and the smallest is Long-tailed Skua/Long-tailed Jaeger S. longicaudus. All three jaegers breed on Arctic tundra in Eurasia and North America and winter at sea. All are kleptoparasitic—they steal food from other birds. This habit gives rise to the Chinese name for the family: ‘thief-gull’ (贼鸥). (Craig Brelsford)

In adult pale-morph pomarinus, the black helmet reaches below the gape, and black plumage surrounds the base of the bill. Most pale-morph parasiticus show a white spot at the base of the upper mandible and a less-extensive helmet that does not reach below the gape.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
The Shanghai pomarinus is a pale-morph adult in non-breeding plumage. (Traces of the yellow breeding plumage can be seen here on the cheeks and throat.) Its helmet reaches below the gape, and it lacks a pale spot at the base of the upper mandible. (Craig Brelsford)

Below, another close-up of the head. Note here and above that, unusually for pomarinus, the bill appears almost all-black.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
The Shanghai pomarinus has an unusually dark bill. (Craig Brelsford)

Adult pale-morph pomarinus is more heavily barred than parasiticus. Most adult pale-morph pomarinus show a coarse breast band and dark barring on the flanks. Most adult pale-morph parasiticus show a diffuse greyish-brown breast band and lack barring on the flanks.

skua-pomarine008
Our pomarinus shows broad, coarse barring across the breast and on the flanks. (Craig Brelsford)

There are several other ID points, some of them, such as tail streamers, not visible in The Shanghai Skua. The points discussed above, however, are enough, we think, to clinch the ID.

OTHER PHOTOS

Enjoy these other photos of the rarity.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
When Elaine and I arrived Thursday morning, a Grey Heron was harassing the strange intruder. (Craig Brelsford)

The skua was very tame and performed various functions in its unaccustomed surroundings. It scratched itself (below), bathed, scavenged dead fish, and occasionally took short flights.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
(Craig Brelsford)

Its most common activity was roosting on the mud bank.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
(Craig Brelsford)

Kai Pflug got the photo below of the skua with wings upraised. Note the unbarred underwing and pale flash at the base of the primaries, further evidence that the skua is an adult.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 19 Oct. 2016. Photo by Kai Pflug.
Photo taken 19 Oct. 2016 by Kai Pflug.
Compare the images of our non-breeding Pomarine with this shot of an individual in breeding plumage. Photo taken by Daniel Pettersson in Alaska in June 2016.
Compare the images of our non-breeding Pomarine with this shot of an individual in breeding plumage. Alaska, June. (Daniel Pettersson)

Hé Xīn (below) found The Shanghai Skua on Wed. 19 Oct. 2016, a historic first record for Shanghai. The next day I met Hé Xīn at the site.

Craig Brelsford (L) and Hé Xīn (何鑫), Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
shanghaibirding.com editor Craig Brelsford (L) and Shanghai Skua discoverer Hé Xīn (何鑫), Cape Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. (Elaine Du)

RARE AUTUMN RECORD OF NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER

On Thurs. 20 Oct. and Sun. 23 Oct. 2016, Elaine Du and I birded Nanhui and the sod farm south of Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). On 23 Oct. Elaine and I were joined by British birder Michael Grunwell. The two days yielded 92 species. After the Pomarine Jaeger, the big news was rare autumn sightings of Narcissus Flycatcher, another record of Nordmann’s Greenshank, and still more evidence that the highly threatened Nanhui wetland is much depended on by Black-faced Spoonbill.

Siberian Thrush, Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016.
Siberian Thrush is a very shy bird. I have noted Geokichla sibirica in Heilongjiang, its breeding grounds, and even in breeding season the bird is hard to see. In these photos, however, taken Sun. 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui, this female Siberian Thrush is conspicuous. Why? Hunger. The migrant is exhausted and must feed. In the top panel, the thrush checks on me, then, almost in spite of itself, it attacks the leaf litter (middle panel). In the bottom panel, we see that the thrush has come up short; only a speck of leaf is in its bill. The thrush spent hours in Microforest 4 (30.953225, 121.959083), recharging after the long flight south. Despite their tiny size, the microforests of Nanhui provide forest habitat critical to woodland species such as Siberian Thrush. (Craig Brelsford)

On 20 Oct. in the canal at the base of the sea wall at Nanhui, Elaine and I had 18 Mandarin Duck and 2 season’s first Greater Scaup. On 23 Oct., the Nanhui microforests yielded Eurasian Woodcock, Ashy Minivet, Siberian Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, and season’s first Pale Thrush. A male Siberian Rubythroat popped out of the undergrowth and a Northern Boobook dozed before a crowd of photographers. At the line of trees (30.859995, 121.910061) near South Lock, 6 km south of the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489), we had season’s first Tristram’s Bunting. Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) is attracting ducks again, the most notable Sunday being season’s first Tufted Duck and Common Pochard.

Northern Boobook, one of four we saw on 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui.
Northern Boobook, one of four we saw 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

The sod farm, which we visited Sunday morning, and which lies just off the S32 freeway, was worth the small investment of time required to get there. The grassy area gave us an unusually large (80) group of Red-throated Pipit. In Nanhui, we have been experiencing this species only in fly-by mode, but at the farm dozens of them were feeding on the ground. Michael and I studied the pipits carefully and concluded the group was pure Red-throated; we saw not a single Buff-bellied Pipit.

Ducks are once again gracing the canals and ponds of Nanhui. The most numerous were, as expected, Eastern Spot-billed Duck (285 over the two days) and Eurasian Teal (270 on 23 Oct.). Less numerous was Eurasian Wigeon, and there were sprinklings of Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Garganey.

OTHER NOTES

Narcissus Flycatcher, Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016.
Narcissus Flycatcher, male (top left) and three females, Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016. Every year between about 15 April and 15 May, Narcissus Flycatcher passes through the Shanghai region. It is fairly common during that time but rarely recorded in autumn. One of the most beautiful of Asia’s colorful flycatchers, Ficedula narcissina breeds in Japan and on Sakhalin and the adjacent Russian mainland. It winters in Borneo. (Craig Brelsford)

— Uniquely among the Shanghai region’s passage-migrant flycatchers, most of which appear in roughly equal numbers on both the spring and autumn migrations, Narcissus Flycatcher appears almost exclusively on the spring migration. We were therefore pleasantly surprised Sunday to see the three males and three females. Did Typhoon Haima send them our way? What are the migration patterns of this beautiful flycatcher?

Pink-billed juvenile Black-faced Spoonbill feeds in the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui, 23 Oct. 2016.
Pink-billed sub-adult Black-faced Spoonbill feeds in Nanhui’s defunct nature reserve (30.920507, 121.973159), 23 Oct. 2016. The spoonbill was surprisingly close to the road, driven there by lack of habitat. Despite the disadvantages of the site, the abandoned reserve remains one of the most hospitable places on the Shanghai coast for spoonbills and many other species. (Craig Brelsford)

— The importance of the Nanhui wetlands—as well as the dangers they face—can hardly be overstated. On 20 Oct. at the skua site, Hé Xīn told me that the defunct wetland in which we were standing would already have been utterly transformed by now had it not been for the intervention of Chinese birders, who secured a one-year delay. Within a radius of a few hundred meters of the skua site stood 24 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and an endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. The dependence of Black-faced Spoonbill on the defunct wetland reserve is obvious and could be demonstrated by a group of high-schoolers doing a science project. Shanghai lies at the mouth of one of Earth’s greatest waterways (the Yangtze River) and is a major point on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway—yet this wealthy city, a world financial center with a rich natural heritage, entirely lacks an easily accessible wetland reserve on its mainland. The one, weak attempt—the defunct Nanhui reserve, with its crumbling buildings, torn-up boardwalk, and rotting signs—stands near the gallows, in the nick of time being given a stay of execution. And yet, even now, the defunct reserve, mismanaged, unloved, and undervalued, even now the place still attracts Class A birds! When, oh when, will the Shanghai government and Shanghai people learn to value at their true worth their spoonbills, greenshanks, and vagrant skuas? When, I ask, will they see as an asset to be cherished, and not a burden to be cast away, the thousands of birds that migrate through Earth’s greatest city? When will the Shanghai people apply their renowned cleverness and skill to protecting, rather than dredging up the home of, the symbol of their city, Reed Parrotbill? When will Shanghai take a cue from Hong Kong and build its own Mai Po? When will it follow the example of Singapore and create its own Sungei Buloh?

PHOTOS

Mandarin Duck in the rain, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016.
Mandarin Duck in the rain, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Red-throated Pipit, sod farm near Pudong Airport, 23 Oct. 2016.
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus at the sod farm, 23 Oct. 2016. When the red throat is visible (Panel 1), the species is unmistakable. When it is not visible or lacking (2-4), Red-throated Pipit can be distinguished from Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus by the former’s better-defined black streaking on the back and crown and by its whitish mantle stripes. (Craig Brelsford)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Note: Nearly every major field guide covers skuas, a cosmopolitan family. This is a partial list showing the main works I consulted as I researched Stercorariidae.

Alderfer, Jonathan, ed. National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, 2006. Section “Skuas, Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers” by N.G. Howell and Alvaro Jaramillo. Jaegers, pp. 237-9.

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Brelsford, Craig, moderator. Shanghai Birding, a WeChat chat group. News about the sighting of Pomarine Skua was disseminated by Hé Xīn and Kai Pflug through this chat group.

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, 2009. Skuas, pp. 230-3.

Grimmet, Richard & Carol Inskipp & Tim Inskipp. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, 2011. Pomarine Skua and Arctic Skua, p. 182.

Peterson, Roger Tory & Virginia Marie Peterson. Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Jaegers, p. 168.

Svensson, Lars & Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd ed. HarperCollins, 1999-2009. Skuas, pp. 174-7.