Yellow-breasted Bunting Leads Parade of Endangered Migrants at Cape Nanhui

Yellow-breasted Bunting
Our partner Mike May got this image of a Yellow-breasted Bunting feeding on rice near Luchao. The endangered bunting was found at the spot we call the Marshy Agricultural Land (30.850707, 121.863662). On 5 Nov. we first found Yellow-breasted Bunting there. We returned on 8 Nov., when Mike got this shot, as well as 9 Nov., finding the species there each time. (Mike May)

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Since last we posted, Elaine Du and I birded three days: Sat. 5 Nov., Tues. 8 Nov., and Wed. 9 Nov. We noted 115 species. At Cape Nanhui’s defunct nature reserve (30.920507, 121.973159) we had Long-billed Dowitcher and endangered Great Knot, and we noted the continued presence there of endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) yielded Smew, Greater Scaup, Black-necked Grebe, and an uncommon Shanghai record of Black Kite. We had Reed Parrotbill and Brown-cheeked Rail at a new site called the Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), and we went three-for-three with endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting at a point (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, where we also attained an autumn record of Black-browed Reed Warbler. Drives along the sea-wall road gave us Amur Falcon and Peregrine Falcon, and Japanese Sparrowhawk dove for cover into Microforest 7.

Amur Falcon
Amur Falcon, 2 of the 3 noted by us on 5 Nov. at Cape Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

We found Tundra Swan (bewickii) on all three days, with a high count of 11 on 9 Nov. on the mudflats near Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074). The previous evening near Big Bend we had a rare Shanghai record of Greater White-fronted Goose. In the mudflats north of South Lock (30.860073, 121.909997) we had Eurasian Curlew and a rare Shanghai record of Mew Gull Larus canus.

Among shorebirds, Dunlin and Kentish Plover not surprisingly were the most numerous. Careful scanning allowed us to sift out more southerly winterers such as the Great Knot as well as small numbers of Black-tailed Godwit, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, and Sanderling. Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull were at the defunct nature reserve.

Microforest 4 yielded Japanese Robin on 7 Nov., seen and photographed by Shanghai birder kaca. A careful search by us the following two days failed to turn up the rare passage migrant. On 5 Nov. we had a late record of Arctic Warbler. Other interesting passerines were Hair-crested Drongo and Naumann’s Thrush. Scaly-breasted Munia was at the Iron Track, we had season’s first Rustic Bunting, and the skies gave us Red-rumped Swallow and Asian House Martin.

On 5 Nov. Elaine and I were joined by Michael Grunwell, the Shanghai-based veteran British birder. On 8 Nov. we welcomed U.K. birder Mike May, and on 9 Nov. we partnered with U.S. birder Erica Locke.

On 8 Nov. we found a bird photographer with a cage baited with mealworms. We asked him politely but firmly to put the cage away, and he complied. If you see persons trapping or otherwise abusing birds at Nanhui, call the forestry department at 21-51586246 or the Pudong New Area Wildlife Protection Station at 21-61872122.

PHOTOS

Hair-crested Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo is an uncommon passage migrant in Shanghai. (Mike May)
Yellow-throated Bunting
Yellow-throated Bunting, Cape Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater White-fronted Goose
Greater White-fronted Goose, Nanhui, 8 Nov. Rare Shanghai record. Digiscoped images by Elaine Du using Swarovski ATX-95 scope and iPhone 6. (Elaine Du)
Pied Avocet
A rather harried flock of Pied Avocet fly over the defunct wetland at Nanhui. The avocets were often interrupting their feeding to make a circular flight before settling back down at more or less the same location. (Craig Brelsford)

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Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Cape Nanhui

Editor’s note: The photos above record the moment when I first beheld Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The date was 23 Aug. 2011; the place was Yangkou, a major stopover point for Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Jiangsu; and the bird was this adult, still with a considerable amount of its rufous breeding plumage. Since then I have had numerous encounters with the critically endangered species. The most recent was 3 Nov., when I achieved one of my most sustained views (nearly 30 minutes) and first view in Shanghai of one of the rarest vertebrates on the planet. — Craig Brelsford

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

On 3 Nov. Elaine Du and I found Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Cape Nanhui, the coastal birding site in Pudong. A single SBS was associating with a flock of 2600 waders in mud near the entrance to the defunct nature reserve. The SBS site is 4.3 km north of the Holiday Inn, and its coordinates are 30.921616, 121.969776.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Spoon-billed Sandpiper in flight. (Craig Brelsford)

I have been viewing Spoon-billed Sandpiper a few times each year since 2011. Since 2013, Elaine has been with me. We know what to look for, and at this time of year when we see a large flock of small waders, the possibility of finding Spoon-billed Sandpiper is always on our mind.

Seated, as is my wont, on the access road, my Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope atop my tripod in front of me, I was scanning the flock of 2600 waders, looking for anomalies. The great majority (1920) of the birds were Dunlin, with Kentish Plover (620) the other major component.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
At Yangkou, this Spoon-billed Sandpiper was a lonely fellow in a dry roost containing hundreds of waders. (Craig Brelsford)

I saw a bird that was one of a kind. It was not associating with Kentish Plover or Dunlin. Unlike the plovers and Dunlin, which were resting and preening, the bird I was viewing was feeding. It was moving quickly and covering much ground.

The constant movement, like a wind-up toy, reminded me of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper I have viewed at Yangkou and Dongtai. The speed at which the bird ran fit the pattern, as did the average length of sprint. The bird would occasionally take a short flight. When it flew, the bird showed the white sides to its uppertail coverts.

SBS
Spoon-billed Sandpiper in non-breeding plumage. (Craig Brelsford)

The foregoing did not prove Spoon-billed Sandpiper—other species such as Red-necked Stint share some of those characters. What I needed was a close view. Unfortunately, the galaxy of shorebirds was spread out between me and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and the SBS was obviously shying away. Finally the bird moved to within 150 meters of the road. Even through the heat haze, the scope brought home the trademark spatulate bill.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
On the mudflats at Yangkou, Elaine and I found this Spoon-billed Sandpiper. It is an adult, with traces of the rufous breeding plumage still visible on the face and throat. (Craig Brelsford)

It is only somewhat surprising that Spoon-billed Sandpiper should be at Nanhui in early November. First, Spoon-billed Sandpiper quit the stopover sites in Jiangsu around the end of October and early November. The Nanhui bird may have been one of them, and it may have stopped off in Shanghai for a quick refueling break as it heads south.

Second, as more and more of the Chinese coast is gobbled up by development, places such as the wetland at Nanhui, abandoned and gravely threatened as it is, take on greater and greater importance to migrating shorebirds. With so few places left for them, migrating waders pool in whatever hospitable area they can find. Small wonder, then, that in recent weeks the abandoned reserve has yielded Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank and ultra-rarities such as Pomarine Jaeger and that the site is depended on by about 2 percent of the world’s Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Spoon-billed Sandpiper has a highly distinctive spatulate bill. (Craig Brelsford)

IUCN lists Spoon-billed Sandpiper as Critically Endangered. Only 500 to 800 of these birds are thought to exist. Excessive development along the Chinese coast is one of the main causes of its decline. Last month, in Will the Spoon Survive?, I discussed coastal development and the future of Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
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