Sijiao Island

Recently, there seems to have been an influx of Japanese migrants in Shanghai. The Dream Team noted 37 Japanese Thrush on 7 Nov., and Japanese Robin and Yellow Bunting have been reported in the Shanghai area. Elaine and I decided to try to determine whether the islands farther out than Lesser Yangshan are part of the Japan-China migration route. The thesis that Elaine and I were trying to prove is as follows: “Inasmuch as Sijiao Island is larger, more thickly vegetated, better protected, and farther out to sea than Lesser Yangshan, the selection there of migratory birds, especially those from Japan, is richer than at Lesser Yangshan.” Thesis 2: “As Sijiao Island is the northernmost of a line of islands oriented roughly on a N-S axis, many birds having crossed the East China Sea from Kyushu will use that line of islands as stepping stones to mainland Asia at Ningbo, Zhejiang.” After visiting Sijiao Island 11-13 Nov. 2015, Elaine and I have found little to support those theses. Sijiao Island is densely populated, with only the steep hillsides and mountaintops unused by humans. We found only one gully that compares to Garbage Dump Gully and Temple Mount on Lesser Yangshan.

Sijiao Island is small and crowded. The easily accessible areas at the mouths of the gullies are taken up by towns and farms, and the hillsides are too steep and thickly vegetated to bird. After a long search, I finally found a gully containing a small garbage dump and crude terraced gardens above. Paths to the gardens provided access to the secondary forest. In this cramped area I found about 30 species, among them weakly singing Brown-flanked Bush Warbler.
Sijiao Island is small and crowded. The easily accessible areas at the mouths of the gullies are taken up by towns and farms, and the hillsides are too steep and thickly vegetated to bird. After a long search, I finally found a gully containing a small garbage dump and crude terraced gardens above. Paths to the gardens provided access to the secondary forest. In this cramped area I found about 30 species, among them weakly singing Brown-flanked Bush Warbler. (Craig Brelsford)

This post contains a description of our three days on Sijiao plus visits to Lesser Yangshan and Nanhui at the beginning and end of the trip.

On Wed. 11 Nov., after the alarm woke us at 04:00, Elaine and I drove our rented Skoda from our apartment near Zhongshan Park in Puxi to Garbage Dump Gully on Lesser Yangshan. The gully was busy. Yellow-bellied Tit is not often seen on Lesser Yangshan, and we saw a female Japanese Thrush. Among the 10 Red-flanked Bluetail were 2 adult males. Chinese Sparrowhawk was distinguishable by the lack of bands on the wing linings.

We had to wait for the 11:30 ferry to Sijiao Island. During the crossing, which Elaine and I spent on the deck, we saw not a single bird. At Sijiao we drove off the ferry and started looking for habitat. I was looking for flat, wet areas near the mouth of a gully, but I soon saw that every bit of that sort of land has been put to use by the local people. Next, we searched for gullies higher up the steep, thickly vegetated mountainsides. We found one gully, now being used as a garbage dump, with gardens higher up. This gully produced about as good a mix of species as I have come to expect at Temple Mount and Garbage Dump Gully. We found Yellow-breasted Bunting, 2 Chestnut Bunting, and 2 Tristram’s Bunting, and we had long, close views of Brown-flanked Bush Warbler. A pair of Black Kite soared overhead, and a Rook passed over. Nearby, on the road just below the overlook at Dabeishan Scenic Area, we found Taiga Flycatcher. Daurian Redstart were numerous, and the sound of Light-vented Bulbul was constantly descending on us from the steep hillsides above.

Another look at the crude gardens and secondary forest near Dabeishan Scenic Area on Sijiao Island. Note entrance to WWII-era tunnel.
Another look at the crude gardens and secondary forest near Dabeishan Scenic Area on Sijiao Island. Note entrance to WWII-era tunnel. (Craig Brelsford)
At the eastern end of Sijiao Island around Liujingtan Scenic Area one can view original scrub habitat. Farms and settlements are few, and the loudest sound is that of the surf hitting the rocks. We found three species of thrush here as well as Japanese Sparrowhawk.
At the eastern end of Sijiao Island around Liujingtan Scenic Area one can view original scrub habitat. Farms and settlements are few, and the loudest sound is that of the surf hitting the rocks. We found three species of thrush here as well as Japanese Sparrowhawk. (Craig Brelsford)

Thurs. 12 Nov. 2015
Sijiao Island

Elaine and I noted 40 species on Sijiao Island. We marveled at the original scrub forest on the eastern end of the island, and I returned to the unnamed garbage dump. Although we found no evidence of major migrations from Japan, the birding was nonetheless solid.

My day started at the unnamed garbage dump near Dabeishan. In two and a half hours, I noted 27 species. I had a first-of-season Rustic Bunting and heard Brown-flanked Bush Warbler singing weakly. The pair of Black Kite patrolled the sky above, and a Peregine Falcon zipped in, trying to catch one of the dozens of Light-vented Bulbul. I got a good look at Dusky Thrush, and I saw 5 Hawfinch.

I explored the hillsides around the gully, finding more good habitat. In the gully I walked into an old military tunnel and found dozens of centipedes as long as my hand.

The most unusual sighting of the day was this Hair-crested Drongo. What was this southeast China resident doing 40 km off the coast?
The most unusual sighting of the day was this Hair-crested Drongo. What was this southeast China resident doing 40 km off the coast? (Craig Brelsford)

I returned to our hotel to pick up Elaine. We drove toward Liujingtan Scenic Area on the eastern edge of the island. Along the way, we noted Hair-crested Drongo and a singing male Meadow Bunting. At Liujingtan, we declined to pay 100 yuan for the right to drive a mere 700 m beyond the gate. From the parking lot Elaine and I scanned the valley below. I followed a trail heading into the valley and soon found myself in uncut scrub–the primeval “forest” of Sijiao! The scenery was outstanding. Pinkish-brown rocks stand firm against the crashing sea. I moved down to a spot near the water, where the parking lot and civilization above were unseen. The great emptiness of the sea yawned before me. It was an odd sight, but the whistles of the ubiquitous Daurian Redstart pulled me back. Eyebrowed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, and Pale Thrush were taking berries from the many fruiting trees, and from a sturdy branch a Japanese Sparrowhawk was doing its own form of bird-watching.

Would I recommend a visit to Sijiao Island? If you are willing to spend about 600 yuan to get your car to Sijiao and back to Lesser Yangshan, and if you would like to spend an hour or two in line and another 80 minutes one way on the ferry to get here, then, yes, you should go–but if Elaine’s and my two days here are any indication, then you will find many of the same birds that can be found on Lesser Yangshan and at Nanhui. You will find better scenery, especially around Liujingtan, a larger area to bird than is the case on Lesser Yangshan, and more peace and quiet. The Wu dialect of the people here, so similar to Shanghaihua, reminds us that this island is close to Shanghai, but because it’s 40 km off the coast, requires hours to reach, and offers rocky coasts with crashing waves, Sijiao feels like a different world. It may not be worth a special trip, but birders here on a family visit will very much find it worth their while to bird the areas I have researched.

Fri. 13 Nov. 2015
Lesser Yangshan & Nanhui

At Nanhui, Elaine and I found a late Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and 7 Black-faced Spoonbill. Buff-bellied Pipit were numerous. We noted 2 Peregrine Falcon on Lesser Yangshan.

The day began on Sijiao Island. We awoke at our small hotel and drove through the rain to the ferry terminal. The crossing was uneventful. Once on Lesser Yangshan, we drove straight to the parking area at Temple Mount and began birding. At Garbage Dump Gully we noted a female Mugimaki FlycatcherFicedula mugimaki always being the last of its genus to depart the Shanghai area. 3 of the 6 Red-flanked Bluetail were adult males. Impressive flocks of Brambling contained a total of 175 individuals. One of the Bull-headed Shrike was an adult.

At Nanhui we squinted into the backlit mudflats and found hundreds of duck, the most numerous by far being Eastern Spot-billed Duck. I managed to pick out several Mallard and a Northern Pintail before the cloud of birds moved even further out. We visited all 8 of the microforests and found Taiga Flycatcher, Goldcrest, and the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. We birded till dark then drove to Dongtai, Jiangsu.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Lesser Yangshan.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Lesser Yangshan. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Rock, sea, and hills covered with original Sijiao scrub, Liujingtan Scenic Area, Sijiao Island, Zhoushan, Zhejiang, China, 12 Nov. (Craig Brelsford)

83 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

53 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reptiles

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

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

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

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

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

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