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.

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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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Save the Nanhui Wetland Reserve!

The photo leading off this post shows an abandoned sign introducing Ruddy Turnstone that has been turned into a wall of a shack in the abandoned nature reserve at Nanhui. On 29 Oct. 2016 in the marshy land just behind the sign were 54 Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, an Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, a Near Threatened Red Knot, 2 Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull, and a score of other species. In the essay below, I argue that the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui should be brought back to life and converted into a world-class wetland, like Sungei Buloh in Singapore. — Craig Brelsford

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

I like to extol the city in which I have spent the past nine years. I like to tell people about the green side of Shanghai, the city at the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway. How exciting it is to bird in Earth’s largest city.

I see in Shanghai an opportunity to show the rest of China how to cherish its natural heritage. The people of Shanghai can teach China and the world to view nature as an asset. They can do this by creating an easily accessible wetland reserve at Nanhui.

Shanghai already is an environmental leader, in a way. My wife Elaine Du and I have toured the 330 km (205 mi.) stretch of coast from Nanhui to Yancheng in Jiangsu. Remaining mudflats and wetlands are very few—and some of the best are not those found in the less-populated areas but those found in the megalopolis of Shanghai. Eastern Chongming Island enjoys considerable protection, and there is Jiuduansha (31.166667, 121.925000), intertidal wetland shoals in the sea near Pudong Airport.

birds of Cape Nanhui
Birds of the defunct wetland reserve at Nanhui. Panel 1: Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer. 2: Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor. 3a-3d: Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi. 4: Ruff Calidris pugnax. Photos in panels 1, 3d, and 4 by Elaine Du. Others: Craig Brelsford.

The problem with Jiuduansha especially and to a lesser extent Chongming Dongtan is that they are not easily accessible. The next step for Shanghai is a nature reserve easily accessed by the people, along the lines of the Mai Po Marshes in Hong Kong and Sungei Buloh in Singapore.

It is amazing to me that such a reserve was not in the master plans for Pudong when the New Area was conceived. Pudong is big—it covers 1210 sq. km (467 sq. mi.), nearly twice the size of Singapore. Within this New Area you have the world-class urban architecture and business districts around Lujiazui, you now have world-class family entertainment at the Shanghai Disney Resort—and you have world-class wildlife, the natural inheritance of the city, waiting on the coast, ready to be preserved, experienced, and loved. There is moreover the example of other Asian megacities such as the aforementioned two that found room for wildlife—and that wear their urban reserves as a badge of civic pride.

sign
In Nanhui’s defunct wetland reserve, the south side of the access road has already been transformed, as this scene shows. Where Black-winged Stilt once foraged, a tree plantation now stands. The area was dredged and drained earlier this year. Barring a miracle, a similar fate awaits the north side. For more on the earlier stage of the destruction of Nanhui, see my post Amid the Din of the Diggers. (Craig Brelsford)

Mai Po and Sungei Buloh are easily reachable by bus. In Shanghai, the Metro already reaches Lingang New City, and a cheap, fast taxi ride gets you from Dishui Lake Station to Nanhui’s abandoned wetland reserve 8 km away (at 30.920507, 121.973159). The infrastructure for an accessible “people’s nature reserve” is in place, and the birds are there at Nanhui, crying out for real, lasting protection.

Sungei Buloh is a particularly good example for Pudong, as Sungei Buloh is about the same size (1.3 sq. km) as the defunct nature reserve at Nanhui (1.2 sq. km). Like Nanhui’s defunct reserve, Sungei Buloh was not originally considered a likely place for a nature reserve. Sungei Buloh was willed into being by the actions of local nature lovers who understood the value of the site. Likewise, a change of heart and an act of will can bring the abandoned reserve at Nanhui back from the brink.

The sight of Nanhui’s defunct reserve, which apparently just missed being dredged and drained this year, and which could well be torn up next year, saddens me—not just because of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill that so obviously rely on the place, and not only for the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank that has been living there—but also for the grandchildren of the people currently making the decisions, who may have these treasures denied them, and who may fail to appreciate the natural heritage of this great city.

The development plans for Pudong in general and Nanhui and Lingang New City in particular need to have a major component dedicated to conservation. Jiuduansha is simply not enough for Pudong. Those mud banks, barely above sea level, are a place for researchers, not the public. To meet the standard set by other coastal megacities, Pudong needs an easily accessible nature reserve on its mainland. That defunct nature reserve is just the place.

spoonbills
Black-faced Spoonbill and Eurasian Spoonbill, defunct nature reserve, Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016. Photo shows 19 of the 54 Black-faced Spoonbill we counted that day as well as 5 Eurasian Spoonbill. The latter species ranges across Eurasia. The former is one of the rarest birds in Asia—and Shanghai is one of its few remaining strongholds. (Craig Brelsford)

I think some local people realize the dire situation at Nanhui, and I understand that local birders had much to do with the one-year stay of execution granted the abandoned nature reserve. Those birders deserve everyone’s thanks.

I think I speak for many foreigners when I say to my Shanghai conservationist friends: If you need our support, then we will give it to you. Ideas, a pat on the back, anything—we’re here. 加油!

The Shanghai Skua

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
Photo taken 19 Oct. 2016 by Kai Pflug.
Pomarine Skua
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), Hé Xīn (何鑫)
shanghaibirding.com editor Craig Brelsford (L) and Shanghai Skua discoverer Hé Xīn (何鑫), Cape Nanhui, 20 Oct. (Elaine Du)

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.
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Melanistic Long-tailed Shrike in Shanghai

Long-tailed Shrike
Dusky Long-tailed Shrike, Hengsha Island, Shanghai. Note that Dusky is not a subspecies but a color morph within Lanius schach schach, the same taxon found in Shanghai. The melanistic morph, however, is rare in Shanghai. Shanghai Birding member Jonathan Martinez reports that the form is ‘common’ in Guangdong, where the French birder resides. Martinez writes, ‘I’ve seen them in Jiangxi, Fujian, and coastal Guangxi. A bird turning up in Shanghai could be evidence of short-distance movements.’ (Craig Brelsford)

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Partnering with visiting U.S. birder Bryce Harrison, Elaine Du and I noted 103 species over the weekend of Sat. 15 Oct. and Sun. 16 Oct. We covered the three main birding areas in Shanghai: Cape Nanhui, eastern Chongming Island, and the reclaimed areas of Hengsha Island. The highlight was a Dusky Long-tailed Shrike on Hengsha.

At Cape Nanhui on Saturday we found Nordmann’s Greenshank, 24 Black-faced Spoonbill, 4 Mandarin Duck, and Ashy Drongo. On Sunday on Hengsha we found a dark-morph Long-tailed Shrike, rare in Shanghai.

Cape Nanhui also gave us Japanese Quail, Purple Heron, 6 Eurasian Spoonbill, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, and a Eurasian Woodcock at the Magic GPS Point (30.880563, 121.964551). We must have stumbled blindly past the well-camouflaged woodcock half a dozen times before finally flushing it. Also 4 Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, 2 Asian Stubtail, 2 first-of-season Red-flanked Bluetail, 2 Japanese Thrush, and 3 Eyebrowed Thrush.

Hengsha yielded Striated Heron, Pied Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Merlin, 9 Black-browed Reed Warbler, and our season’s first taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

We found Eurasian Wryneck at Nanhui and on Hengsha and Bull-headed Shrike and Yellow-bellied Tit at Nanhui and on Chongming.

Nordmann’s Greenshank was roosting at nearly the same spot (30.920549, 121.963247) as a month ago. The endangered bird was among many Common Greenshank, allowing us to appreciate the former’s more obviously bi-colored bill, shorter legs, and more hunched appearance. The bird clearly stood out from among its Common cousins. For more on Nordmann’s ID, please see our post, Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer.

The Black-faced Spoonbill were just a few hundred meters from the Nordmann’s in the defunct nature reserve. Poignantly, the spoonbills were roosting near the decrepit old sign introducing Platalea minor to the world.

PHOTOS

spoonbills
Black-faced Spoonbill (L) and Eurasian Spoonbill, Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016. In the Shanghai region, the two species often are found together. Though not under quite as much pressure as Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Platalea minor is nonetheless listed by the IUCN as endangered. Throughout the winter, Black-faced Spoonbill are consistently seen at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Japanese Quail
Japanese Quail with ever-present backhoes in background. Nanhui, 15 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Bull-headed Shrike
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus bucephalus, Nanhui. Outside the breeding season, the pale base to the lower mandible (inset) is present on both sexes of the nominate subspecies. This is an adult female. Note the lack of a black facial mask and the striking rusty-orange coloration. The nominate race breeds in northeast China, the Russian Far East and adjacent islands, Korea, and Japan and is a passage migrant in Shanghai. A little-known western subspecies, sicarius, breeds in Gansu and lacks the pale base to the lower mandible. (Craig Brelsford)
Pied Harrier
Pied Harrier, Hengsha, 16 Oct. 2016. This is an adult female. (Craig Brelsford)
Eurasian Hobby
Juvenile Eurasian Hobby dining on the wing, Chongming Island, 16 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

trees
This line of trees (31.216753, 121.408195) is wedged between two housing complexes near my apartment in Changning District, Shanghai. Deep in the bowels of Earth’s largest city, this spot is as urban as urban can be. The trees, however, are tall and provide a large surface area for wild birds. On 17 Oct. 2016, I found Oriental Magpie-Robin and Japanese Tit there, and on 14 Oct. I found a fast-moving flock of Japanese White-eye. Chinese Blackbird breed in the area, and Siberian Weasel have been noted in the vicinity. (Craig Brelsford)

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Will the Spoon Survive?

Editor’s note: Our featured image above, which shows a Spoon-billed Sandpiper and question mark, sets the theme for this post, in which we raise this question: In the face of manic coastal development in China, what will become of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, among the most highly endangered shorebirds in the world? The unique “spoon,” or spatulate bill—will future generations look on in wonder at it? — Craig Brelsford

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

In Yangkou, the famous birding location in Rudong County, Jiangsu, my partners and I on 3 Oct. found a roost of 10,300 waders. We encountered this stunning spectacle on a reclaimed parcel of mudflat that will soon be transformed into a kite-flying ground for the tourists. Have you ever wondered why species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank are on the brink? This picture will help answer your question:

shorebird roost
On 3 Oct. at Yangkou, at this unlikely spot (32.550563, 121.079042), with trucks roaring, windmills whirring, and earth-moving machines clanging, our birding team found 10,300 shorebirds. (Elaine Du)

If other nearby areas are suitable, then why would so many shorebirds choose to roost literally in the shadow of the clanging backhoes and roaring dump trucks?

Simple. Because there are no better areas.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, and dozens of other shorebird species are being squeezed by coastal development, precisely of the sort shown in the photo above.

Surveying the strange scene, my partner Jan-Erik Nilsén said, “I feel the way I felt with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper yesterday—that I’m saying goodbye.”

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Dongtai, 2 Oct. Bird 29, a male, was flagged in July 2015. This past breeding season, 29 and his mate, 34, produced two successful clutches. (Craig Brelsford)

Jan-Erik was referring to the events of 2 Oct. on the coast of Dongtai County, 35 km (22 miles) north of Yangkou. There we found 13 Spoon-billed Sandpiper foraging at the base of the sea wall at low tide. We watched as the sandpipers casually made their way to within 20 meters of our front-row seat on the wall.

Tempering our delight was this dark thought: Every last square inch of the area on which those endangered birds were foraging is slated for yet more reclamation. The disaster unfolding now at Yangkou may well strike Dongtai.

For now, Dongtai is still magical, with unbroken vistas from sea wall to horizon. For this reason, Dongtai has replaced Yangkou as the world’s best place to observe Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank.

But if Dongtai goes the way of Rudong County, then yet another step will have been taken in locking up the Chinese coast—and throwing away the key.

A BUSY NATIONAL DAY WEEKEND

Du, Michael Grunwell, Nilsén
L-R: Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, and Jan-Erik Nilsén, Magic Forest, Yangkou, 3 Oct. Michael and Jan-Erik are the two birders who have taught Elaine and me the most. A British birder based in Shanghai, Michael introduced us to Emeifeng, the bird-rich mountain in Fujian, and he joined us on a trip to find Nonggang Babbler in Guangxi last December. Beijing-based Jan-Erik visited us in Shanghai last April and May, on the latter trip helping us become the first birders to report Blue Whistling Thrush in Shanghai since 1987. (Craig Brelsford)

Our long look at Spoon-billed Sandpiper highlighted a three-day birding trip over Chinese National Day. My wife Elaine Du and I birded with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik, a Swede working in Beijing. The big roost at Yangkou plus a day and a half at Dongtai helped take our three-day coastal-birding total to 125 species. We had 29 Nordmann’s Greenshank and 35 Black-faced Spoonbill on Sunday at Dongtai, 6 Chinese Egret at the big roost at Yangkou and at Dongtai, and Little Curlew at the big roost.

Also notable were 230 Eurasian Oystercatcher at Dongtai; 19 Whimbrel at Dongtai as well as at our third site, Chongming Island in Shanghai; just 34 endangered Far Eastern Curlew at Dongtai; 573 Eurasian Curlew at Dongtai, including a big count of 570 on Sunday; plus 71 Great Knot, 144 Red Knot, an unusual view of Temminck’s Stint on the mudflats, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Chinese Egret, Little Egret.
Comparison of non-breeding Chinese Egret and Little Egret. Chinese (1a) has thicker legs than Little (1b), and Chinese has a thicker, more dagger-like bill (2a) than Little (2b). The bill of non-breeding Chinese has a yellow base to the lower mandible, whereas the bill of Little is all-black, or, as here, black with pinkish base. Chinese (3) often appears hunched and more thick-set than the longer-legged and longer-necked Little (4). Chinese is also more likely to show greenish tibiae and tarsi (1a, 3). 1a, 3: Jiangsu, October. (Elaine Du) 1b: Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, November. 2a: Liaoning, September. 2b, 4: Gongqing Forest Park, Shanghai, September. (Craig Brelsford)

Finally, passerines: at Dongtai, Chinese Grey Shrike, Hair-crested Drongo, Red-rumped Swallow and Asian House Martin as well as a lone Yellow-bellied Tit migrating south along the sea wall. Also season’s first Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, White-throated Rock Thrush, Red-throated Pipit, and Little Bunting. We found Siberian Thrush and many other passerines at a wooded area around a sluice gate (32.722313, 120.942883). Still missing from our autumn 2016 Shanghai-area list: Bull-headed Shrike, Red-flanked Bluetail, Daurian Redstart, and all Turdus thrushes except Chinese Blackbird.

The big wader roost at Yangkou was made up mainly of Kentish Plover (6500) and Dunlin (2800). Inland we found Chinese Bamboo Partridge (a new Yangkou record for me) and Black-winged Kite.

Lesser Cuckoo
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, Yangkou, 3 Oct. The dark iris rules out all regional Cuculus cuckoos except Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus. The thrush-like size of these birds eliminates Indian, which is one-third larger than Lesser. For more on the cuckoos of the Shanghai region, see my post, The Cuckoos of Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

At Yangkou, in our van we followed 3 Lesser Cuckoo along a line of trees paralleling the road. The sustained view plus photos clearly indicated Cuculus cuckoos of a thrush’s size, not a falcon’s size. Credit goes to Michael for quickly noting the small size of the cuckoo and encouraging me to take the leap beyond “Cuculus sp.” Jan-Erik supported Michael, and after viewing the dozens of photos we took, it was obvious they were right.

NOTES

— The “Temple Forest” (32.560253, 121.039793), the famous migrant trap at Haiyin Temple in Yangkou, has lost much of its value to birders. The Temple Forest was unparalleled as a migrant trap, routinely offering up a stunning array of species drawn to the cover of the leaves. A mini-zoo set up earlier this year in the unwooded areas has since expanded into the wood itself, with cages, mini-cottages, and fences throughout. As the trees are still standing, flycatchers and leaf warblers may continue to use the area.

— One bright note is the small wood next to the lighthouse at Haiyin Temple (32.561881, 121.040619). Fishermen who had been squatting there have moved out, and the area has been cleaned up. A sidewalk now runs past the wood. It is probably too small an area to be developed, and as it has the very best location right at the tip of the headland, it will continue to attract migrating birds.

PHOTOS

Elaine Du surveys a pond inside the sea wall on eastern Chongming Island, 1 Oct. 2016.
Elaine Du surveys a pond inside the sea wall on eastern Chongming Island, 1 Oct. The point is 31.554712, 121.939863 and in winter contains various species of duck. The sea wall and mudflats beyond are part of a nature reserve, are off-limits to the public, and are nearly impossible to access. (Craig Brelsford)
Comparison of Far Eastern Curlew and Eurasian Curlew.
Far Eastern Curlew and Eurasian Curlew are most easily separated in flight. Then one can see the barred brown underwing of Far Eastern (1) as well as its entirely brown upperparts (3). The underwing coverts and axillaries of Eurasian Curlew (ssp. orientalis) are, by contrast, mainly white (2). The back and rump are also white (4). 1 and 3 taken September 2012 in Yangkou. 2 and 4 taken 2 Oct. 2016 at Dongtai. (Craig Brelsford)
Chinese Grey Shrike, Dongtai, 3 Oct. 2016.
Chinese Grey Shrike, Dongtai, 3 Oct. The prominent white bar on the primaries is readily visible, especially in flight, and sets this species apart. Lanius sphenocercus sphenocercus is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor in the Shanghai area, appearing most frequently on Chongming and Hengsha islands and at Dongtai. (Craig Brelsford)
Panorama of Temple Forest, as it used to look.
Panorama of Temple Forest as it used to look, 15 Nov. 2015. Now, a mini-zoo occupies the open land around the forest proper and has invaded the wood itself. As with the big roost site mentioned at the outset of this article, in which mudflats critical to shorebirds are being sacrificed so that day-trippers can fly kites, here too an area of interest to birders has been taken away. Birders and international conservationists have been active in Yangkou for around a decade. When they sat down with the government and put their cards on the table, the government apparently saw a losing hand, and gave all the chips to the developers. (Craig Brelsford)
Another look at the unlikely wader roost.
Another look at the unlikely wader roost at 32.550563, 121.079042 in Yangkou. The speckling of white in the mid-ground is mostly Kentish Plover, of which there were 6500 roosting among 10,300 shorebirds. (Elaine Du)
Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén seek new ticks in the Magic Forest, Yangkou, 3 Oct. 2016.
Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén seek new ticks in the Magic Forest, Yangkou, 3 Oct. See you soon! (Craig Brelsford)

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