Birds of Northern Xinjiang II

During my initial visit to Northern Xinjiang in May 2012, I found birds that I missed in July 2017. The image above shows four of them. Clockwise from top left: Black Woodpecker, Rosy Starling, Demoiselle Crane, and Rock Bunting. In this fourth post in my five-post series, I offer you an illustrated list of the notable passerines of Northern Xinjiang. — Craig Brelsford

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
Red-tailed Shrike L. phoenicuroides

Red-backed Shrike (L), Red-tailed Shrike. Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
In 2017 Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén and I found Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio (L) at sites in the northern Jungar Basin and in the Altai. I photographed this adult male on 17 May 2012 at Chonghu’er Xiang in the Altai foothills. I found the Red-tailed Shrike L. phoenicuroides (top, bottom R) near Ulungur Lake on 10 May 2012. This specimen has the bold white supercilium characteristic of the species, but the sandy grey-brown coloration of its upperparts is reminiscent of the closely related Isabelline Shrike L. isabellinus. (Craig Brelsford)

Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus

Eurasian Golden Oriole, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, Xinjiang, 15 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, 15 May 2012. In 2017 we found the species only once, on 25 July at the wooded site on the G216 north of Beitun. Xinjiang is the easternmost extension of the range of this well-known European bird. (Craig Brelsford)

Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni

Mongolian or Henderson's Ground Jay, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Mongolian or Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni, arid country south of Heshituoluogaizhen (46.326889, 85.918306), 24 July 2017. A random stop in the semi-desert paid off with a family party of 4. Four days later (28 July), on our way back to Urumqi, we again found the species at that site. The Tarim Basin of Southern Xinjiang is the home of Biddulph’s or Xinjiang Ground Jay; the Jungar Basin of Northern Xinjiang belongs to Henderson’s. (Craig Brelsford)

Coal Tit Periparus ater ater

In Xinjiang, the non-crested, trans-Eurasian nominate race is found in the Altai Mountains. In 2017 we had two records, both at Jiadengyu. This race also occurs in Northeast China.

Coal Tit Periparus ater rufipectus

In the Tianshan, the race of Coal Tit is the crested rufipectus. We recorded it at Baiyanggou.

Coal Tit, Baiyanggou (43.474525, 87.191575), 20 July 2017 (01:39; 19.1 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Willow Tit Poecile montanus baicalensis

Willow Tit Poecile montanus baicalensis. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 28 July 2017. Jiadengyu (贾登峪), Xinjiang, China.
Willow Tit Poecile montanus baicalensis, 28 July 2017. We achieved records of this race at Jiadengyu, where this photo was taken, and near the Kanasi River. Both sites are in the Altai Mountains. Race baicalensis occurs also in Northeast China. (Craig Brelsford)

Azure Tit Cyanistes cyanus

Azure Tit, woodland along G216 23 km (14 mi.) N of Beitun, Xinjiang. (Craig Brelsford)
Azure Tit Cyanistes cyanus occurs both in Xinjiang and Northeast China. We found this species at sites in the Tianshan Mountains (23 at Baiyanggou on 21 July 2017) as well as in wooded areas in the Jungar Basin (3 at Hongyanglin on 24 July). This photo was taken in the woodland along the G216, 23 km (14 mi.) north of Beitun, on 8 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Great Tit Parus major kapustini

Great Tit Parus major kapustini, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, Xinjiang, 9 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Great Tit Parus major kapustini is still another race of tit that occurs both in the extreme northwest and northeast of China. With its classic bright-yellow underpart coloration, kapustini is highly reminiscent of the Great Tit of Europe. I have recorded kapustini at various sites in the Tianshan as well as in riparian woodlands in the Jungar Basin. One of those Jungar sites, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, lies just 225 km (140 mi.) north of Hongyanglin, where we recorded the pale form turkestanicus, discussed below. I got the photo above at White Birch on 9 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Turkestan Tit Parus major turkestanicus

Great Tit Parus major turkestanicus, Hongyanglin, 24 July 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
In the oases and forests of Central Asia, including the poplar forest Hongyanglin in Xinjiang’s Jungar Basin, a special tit occurs: Turkestan Tit Parus major turkestanicus. This pallid form more closely resembles Japanese Tit P. minor of Shanghai and eastern China than the bright-yellow Great Tit P. major kapustini. We found these birds 24 July 2017 at Hongyanglin. (Craig Brelsford)

Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis

Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis, arid country N of Burqin, Xinjiang, 16 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
We found Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis at various places in the flat, arid, treeless steppes of the Jungar Basin. (Craig Brelsford)

White-crowned Penduline Tit Remiz coronatus

White-crowned Penduline Tit, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
White-crowned Penduline Tit Remiz coronatus, Burqin Magic Forest, 12 May 2012. On our 2017 trip, Jan-Erik and I found the species once, on 25 July at the wooded site on the G216 north of Beitun. This species is similar to eastern China’s Chinese Penduline Tit R. consobrinus but is more closely associated with trees. (Craig Brelsford)

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus caudatus

On 26 July 2017 at White Birch Forest Scenic Area, Jan-Erik and I glimpsed 2 members of the snowball-headed nominate race. The nominate ssp. ranges across most of Eurasia, from northern Europe to Japan, and in China is found in the northern tip of Xinjiang and in the extreme northeast.

Hume’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus humei humei

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Altai Mountains, Xinjiang, 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
In 2017 in the Tianshan (Baiyanggou) and Altai (Jiadengyu), we recorded nominate Hume’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus humei humei. Hume’s is closely related to Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus. Yellow-browed, which is unlikely but possible in the Altai, usually shows a more distinct upper wing bar and has a profoundly different song (cf. sound-recording of Hume’s below). This individual was photographed at the Altai Mountain site Xiaodong Gulch on 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Baiyanggou (43.424997, 87.165514), 20 July 2017 (00:44; 8.4 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis

Common Chiffchaff, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
On 27 July and 28 July 2017 at Jiadengyu, the site at the entrance to Kanasi Park in the Altai, we found nesting Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis. Note the strongly greyish-brown coloration of this individual, especially on the crown and nape. There is hardly a trace of the more greenish hues usually seen in Common Chiffchaff P. c. collybita. (Craig Brelsford)

Siberian Chiffchaff, “heep” call, Jiadengyu (48.504120, 87.125695), 27 July 2017 (00:29; 5.5 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Sulphur-bellied Warbler Phylloscopus griseolus

Sulphur-bellied Warbler Phylloscopus griseolus. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 27 July 2017. Near Kanasi River in Kanasi Park, Xinjiang, China. Photo taken at a rock face at 48.702008, 86.997155. Elev. 1420 m.
On 27 July 2017 near the Kanasi River in the Altai Mountains, Jan-Erik and I found Sulphur-bellied Warbler Phylloscopus griseolus. A pair of these wallcreeper-like birds were browsing a cliff-face the way their congeners browse the crowns of trees. In arid Central Asia, a leaf warbler has evolved that exploits a decidedly un-leafy habitat. (Craig Brelsford)

Sykes’s Warbler Iduna rama

Sykes's Warbler, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Sykes’s Warbler Iduna rama, found 23 July and 24 July 2017 at the poplar oasis Hongyanglin (46.123909, 85.652300). We found males defending territory and a parent feeding young. In China, this Central and Southwest Asian breeder is found only in Northern Xinjiang. (Craig Brelsford)

Sykes’s Warbler, hard “tek” call, Hongyanglin, 24 July 2017 (00:24; 4.6 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

Sedge Warbler, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus. We found this singing male 26 July 2017 in wetlands on the S229 west of Kaba (48.060168, 86.395527). In their landmark study Reed and Bush Warblers, Kennerley and Pearson do not describe Sedge Warbler as occurring on Chinese territory (2010). Our Xinjiang sighting is an extreme eastern record of this well-known Western Palearctic and Central Asian breeder. (Craig Brelsford)

Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola

Paddyfield Warbler, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola, arid country north of Burqin, 16 May 2012. I found this acro in the northern Jungar Basin in Phragmites reed habitat near the Irtysh River (47.764563, 86.782345). In 2017 Jan-Erik and I found the species on 26 July in the wetlands on the S229 west of Kaba and at Kuitun Reservoir on 23 July. As in the photos above, the July 2017 records involved a singing male. Kennerley and Pearson note that in Xinjiang Paddyfield Warbler is ‘apparently expanding its range due to irrigation projects’ (2010, p. 332). The specimen we found at Kuitun Reservoir certainly does not contradict that hypothesis, for the reedbeds in which it was singing were in large part a result of the large irrigation project in that area. (Craig Brelsford)

Paddyfield Warbler, song, Kuitun Reservoir, north side (44.779020, 84.586502), 23 July 2017 (00:11; 2.1 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Paddyfield Warbler, song, wetlands west of Kaba (48.060168, 86.395527), 26 July 2017 (00:07; 1.4 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
On 18 May 2012, during my initial visit to Northern Xinjiang, I was privileged to find, in two thickly wooded areas 97 km (60 mi.) apart, singing Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum. About the birds shown here, Hong Kong-based bird expert Paul Leader writes, ‘Both birds can be readily identified as Acrocephalus warblers (rather than Iduna) on the basis of the long and very full undertail coverts and a lack of pale/whitish webs to the outer tail feathers (very clearly uniform in your photos). Once we’ve established that they are acros, habitat alone precludes anything other than Blyth’s Reed. The structure, especially primary projection, is spot-on for that species. The only other could be a massively extra-limital Marsh Warbler (!), but your birds are emarginated on PP 3-5, and on Marsh (and Eurasian Reed) only P3 is emarginated’ (Leader, in litt., 2017). Center R: Hualin Park (47.865992, 88.119787), Altai City. Others: thickly wooded garden of my hotel in Burqin (47.700558, 86.854760). (Craig Brelsford)

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus zarudnyi

Great Reed Warbler, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus zarudnyi, 1 of 4 found at Daquangou Reservoir on 22 July 2017. We also had 2 at Ulungur Lake on 25 July. China listers must come to Xinjiang for this species, well-known to Western Palearctic birders. (Craig Brelsford)

Great Reed Warbler, territorial song, Daquangou Reservoir, 22 July 2017 (00:34; 6.6 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Asian Desert Warbler Sylvia nana

Asian Desert Warbler, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Asian Desert Warbler Sylvia nana, arid country south of Heshituoluogaizhen (46.326889, 85.918306), 24 July 2017. Jan-Erik and I guessed well, stopping randomly in the semi-desert and getting our only trip record of this Central Asian arid-country specialist. (Craig Brelsford)

Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria

At the semi-desert site Beishawo on 22 July 2017, we achieved our only trip record of this robust, distinctively barred, yellow-eyed warbler. The bird was skulking in tall bushes, not particularly close to water. Race merzbacheri is described by MacKinnon as an uncommon breeder in Xinjiang, but I have noted the race as well in western Gansu.

Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula

Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 22 July 2017. Beishawo (北沙窝), Xinjiang, China. Elev. 460 m
We recorded Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula at sites throughout the Jungar Basin, with the specimen shown here found at Beishawo on 22 July 2017. In China, Desert Whitethroat occurs in the arid northwest. It is paler and occurs in drier habitats than Lesser Whitethroat S. curruca. (Craig Brelsford)

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca. Top L, R: Burqin, Xinjiang, 18 May 2012. Bottom L: 27 July 2017. Hotel area near main gate to Kanasi Park, Xinjiang (48.504120, 87.125695). (Craig Brelsford)
In Xinjiang I have found Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca at sites in the Tianshan and Altai and in wooded areas in the Jungar Basin. Top L, R: Hotel garden near Irtysh River, downtown Burqin (47.700863, 86.855065), 18 May 2012. Bottom L: Jiadengyu (48.504120, 87.125695), Kanasi Park, Altai, 27 July 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis. © Craig Brelsford. 20 July 2017. Baiyanggou, Xinjiang
We recorded Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis in the Tianshan (Baiyanggou, 8 on 20 July 2017, 14 on 21 July) and Altai (Kanasi River, 5 on 27 July) and at a single Jungar Basin site (wooded area on G216, 2 on 25 July). (Craig Brelsford)

Common Whitethroat, Baiyanggou (43.424997, 87.165514), 20 July 2017 (00:51; 9.9 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, Xinjiang, 14 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Like most starlings, Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris is a wanderer, and it is occasionally recorded in Shanghai. In China, only in Xinjiang is the species an established resident. I have recorded the species at various Jungar Basin sites, among them White Birch Forest Scenic Area, where I took this photo on 14 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Rosy Starling Pastor roseus

Rosy Starling, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Rosy Starling Pastor roseus ranges from southeastern Europe to Northern Xinjiang. I found a pair on 18 May 2012 feeding along the G217 just east of Burqin. This is the male. (Craig Brelsford)

Common Blackbird Turdus merula intermedius

Common Blackbird, Kaba, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Xinjiang is the only home in China to Common Blackbird Turdus merula intermedius. This form is smaller than Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus of eastern China and has a sweeter song. I have recorded Common Blackbird in the Tianshan (Baiyanggou), at oases and wooded areas in the Jungar Basin (Hongyanglin), and in city parks. I found this individual on 13 May 2012 in a small park in the center of Kaba (48.057806, 86.415389). (Craig Brelsford)

Black-throated Thrush Turdus atrogularis

Black-throated Thrush Turdus atrogularis, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
At Xiaodong Gulch on 18 May 2012, I found breeding Black-throated Thrush Turdus atrogularis. China listers need to go to Xinjiang to find this species, whose breeding range includes the Altai and Tianshan. (Craig Brelsford)

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris

Fieldfare, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, Xinjiang, 9 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
At a small park in the center of Kaba (48.057806, 86.415389) on 13 May 2012, I found breeding Fieldfare Turdus pilaris. One pair’s nest was in the crotch of a tree just a few feet above the heads of the many passers-by. The easy harmony between man and bird reminded me more of parks in Western Europe or America than China. I found this adult in White Birch Forest Scenic Area on 9 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus

Mistle Thrush, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
We recorded Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus numerous times in the Tianshan Mountains (Baiyanggou). We found the species once again as we drove north toward the Altai Mountains, for example in the Burqin Magic Forest on 26 July 2017. I took the photo above in the wooded area on the G216 on 8 May 2012, during my first trip to Northern Xinjiang. (Craig Brelsford)

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata

Spotted Flycatcher, Xinjiang. L: May 2012. R: July 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
I have recorded Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata in the Altai Mountains as well as in riverine woodlands in the Jungar Basin. My high count was 7 at the wooded area on the G216 (25 July 2017). Spotted Flycatcher is yet another species common in Europe and found on Chinese territory exclusively in Xinjiang. L: Xiaodong Gulch, Altai Mountains, 18 May 2012. R: Ahe’erbulage Cun, 24 July 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos golzii

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 24 July 2017. Hongyanglin (红杨林), Xinjiang, China. Photo taken at 46.123909, 85.652300. Elev. 300 m.
At the poplar oasis Hongyanglin on 24 July 2017, we thrilled to the song of Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos golzii. The bird sang only intermittently, probably because it was late in the year. I have also noted Common Nightingale at Hualin Park in Altai City. (Craig Brelsford)

Common Nightingale, snatches of song, Hongyanglin, 24 July 2017 (00:09; 1.6 MB; Craig Brelsford)

Eversmann’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythronotus

Eversmann's Redstart Phoenicurus erythronotus. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 21 July 2017. Baiyanggou, Xinjiang, China. Bird photographed at 43.474525, 87.191575. Elev. 2080 m.
A major target for us was Rufous-backed or Eversmann’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythronotus. Jan-Erik and I found this uncommon Central Asian species 21 July 2017 in the foothills of the Tianshan (Baiyanggou). A male was singing and defending territory in a pine forest at 43.474525, 87.191575, elev. 2080 m (6,820 ft.). Note the cocked position of the tail above. MacKinnon (2000) reports that the male flits its tail ‘up and down, not sideways.’ (Craig Brelsford)

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros phoenicuroides

Black Redstart, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Note the white forehead of this Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros phoenicuroides. This race often shows a white forehead and can resemble a hybrid between Black Redstart and Common Redstart P. phoenicurus. I took these photos 27 July 2017 at Jiadengyu, the area near the main gate to Kanasi Park in the Altai Mountains. (Craig Brelsford)

Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus

Siberian Stonechat, Chonghu'er Xiang, Xinjiang, 17 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
We recorded Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus in the Tianshan and Altai. This image of an adult male comes from Chonghu’er Xiang, 17 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Pied Wheatear O. pleschanka

Northern Wheatear (L) and Pied Wheatear, Xinjiang, 17-18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
I have noted Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe (L) at various sites in Northern Xinjiang, among them the loess hills north of the Tianshan and the Jungar Basin. The photo above is of a breeding male and was taken 17 May 2012 in the foothills of the Altai (Chonghu’er Xiang). Pied Wheatear O. pleschanka (R) was noted at Baihu on 21 July 2017, and I have seen it at Xiaodong Gulch in the Altai, where I got the photo above on 18 May 2012. Also recorded by us in Northern Xinjiang were Desert Wheatear O. deserti and Isabelline Wheatear O. isabellina. (Craig Brelsford)

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs

Chaffinch, Hualin Park, Altai City, Xinjiang, 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
We recorded Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs in wooded areas in the northern Jungar Basin and in the Altai. I photographed this female (L) and singing male (R) at Hualin Park in Altai City on 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

European Greenfinch Chloris chloris

European Greenfinch, Burqin, Xinjiang, 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
When on 18 May 2012 I found this European Greenfinch Chloris chloris in the garden of my hotel in Burqin (47.700863, 86.855065), I began to realize how acutely underbirded is Xinjiang. Wanting to know the distribution of the species in China, I opened up my copy of MacKinnon and Phillipps’s Birds of China—and couldn’t find an entry. In 2017 we recorded the species on 25 July at the wooded area on the G216. (Craig Brelsford)

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

European Goldfinch, Chonghu'er Xiang, Xinjiang, 17 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
We recorded European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis in the Tianshan and Altai and in woodlands in the Jungar Basin. I photographed these birds in the foothills of the Altai (Chonghu’er Xiang) on 17 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Twite Linaria flavirostris

Twite Linaria flavirostris, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Twite Linaria flavirostris occurs throughout western China. In Northern Xinjiang, I have noted the species in the Tianshan and Altai as well as the Jungar Basin, with a high count of 90 at Wutubulake Toll Station on 28 July 2017. I found this bird on 18 May 2012 at Xiaodong Gulch in the Altai. In size and shape, Twite resembles Common Linnet L. cannabina, but Twite has a longer and more deeply forked tail. (Craig Brelsford)

Common Linnet Linaria cannabina

Common Linnet, Baiyanggou, Xinjiang, 20 July 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
We had Common Linnet Linaria cannabina in the Tianshan and at sites in the Jungar Basin. In this photo from Baiyanggou, the bright red breast and loud song of the male cause the little bird to stand out in a thick patch of Northern Wolfberry. (Craig Brelsford)

Red-fronted Serin Serinus pusillus

Red-fronted Serin, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Red-fronted Serin Serinus pusillus ranges from Turkey in the west to Xinjiang and Nepal in the east. At Baiyanggou in the Tianshan, we had counts of 38 on 20 July and 30 on 21 July 2017. The adult has a fiery orange oval spot on the forecrown. (Craig Brelsford)
Red-fronted Serin Serinus pusillus. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 20 July 2017. Baiyanggou, Xinjiang, China.
Juvenile Red-fronted Serin has a rusty-brown head and lacks the red spot. (Craig Brelsford)

Saxaul Sparrow Passer ammodendri
House Sparrow P. domesticus
Spanish Sparrow P. hispaniolensis
Eurasian Tree Sparrow P. montanus

Saxaul Sparrow, Xinjiang, 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
At Beishawo on 22 July 2017, we had four species of sparrow: Saxaul Sparrow Passer ammodendri (pair shown above), our only trip record of Spanish Sparrow P. hispaniolensis (whose spherical nests we viewed), Eurasian Tree Sparrow P. montanus, and House Sparrow P. domesticus. (Craig Brelsford)

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis, Xinjiang, May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Singing male Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis, near Burqin, 18 May 2012. This form is well-known to birders in Shanghai, where it is a common passage migrant. (Craig Brelsford)

White Wagtail Motacilla alba personata

Masked Wagtail Motacilla alba personata, Xinjiang, 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Masked Wagtail Motacilla alba personata was recorded by us numerous times in the Tianshan Mountains, Jungar Basin, and Altai Mountains. I took this photo at Xiaodong Gulch on 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi

Richard's Pipit, Baiyanggou, Tianshan Mountains, Urumqi, Xinjiang, 20 July 2017. (Craig Brelsford)
Many ‘European’ birds in Xinjiang have ranges whose eastward expansion ends in or near the province. In the case of Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi, the situation is reversed; the westward extension of this East Asian bird’s range is just to the west of Xinjiang, in Kyrgyzstan. Note the long hindclaw and diamond-shaped blackish centers to the median coverts, telltale characters of Richard’s Pipit. Baiyanggou, 20 July 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, Altai, Xinjiang, China, 17 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
My sole record of Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris came 17 May 2012 at Chonghu’er Xiang, a village in the foothills of the Altai. As is the case with many of the species in these posts, the Gobi Desert bars further eastward expansion of the range of Tawny Pipit, and in China this well-known European bird is found exclusively in Xinjiang. (Craig Brelsford)

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis

Tree Pipit, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, Xinjiang, 9 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, White Birch Forest Scenic Area, 9 May 2012. I have noted Tree Pipit in riparian Jungar Basin woodlands such as White Birch and in the Altai and Tianshan. Tree Pipit is closely related to Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni, which occurs (if at all) in Xinjiang only as a vagrant. Tree Pipit lacks the black spots on the ear coverts of Olive-backed, and the duller supercilium of Tree has no black border above it, as is the case in Olive-backed. (Craig Brelsford)

Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella

On 26 July 2017 at White Birch Forest Scenic Area (48.078487, 86.344951), we achieved a rare China record of Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella. The call of our bird matched that of Yellowhammer or the closely related Pine Bunting E. leucocephalos. The yellowish coloration from throat to vent of our bird strongly suggested Yellowhammer. As Yellowhammer is known to breed as far east as Lake Baikal in Russia as well as in north-central Mongolia, vagrancy to Northern Xinjiang must often occur, especially in the Altai Mountains and riverine woodlands of the northern Jungar Basin.

Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos leucocephalos

Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos leucocephalos. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 20 July 2017. Baiyanggou, Xinjiang, China. Elev. 2080 m.
We recorded Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos leucocephalos on 20 July and 21 July 2017 at Baiyanggou. I found this female feeding young hidden in a roadside bush at elev. 2080 m (6,820 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

Rock Bunting Emberiza cia

Rock Bunting Emberiza cia, Altai Mountains, 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia occurs in mountainous areas from southern Europe and North Africa to Xinjiang and Tibet. I took this photo at Xiaodong Gulch on 18 May 2012. (Craig Brelsford)

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana

Ortolan Bunting, July 2017, Altai Mtns. (Craig Brelsford)
A major target for us in the Altai was Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana, which in China breeds only in these mountains. We found 6 on the slopes above the Kanasi River on 27 July 2017. The grey breast band, yellow-tinged throat and submoustachial, and prominently streaked mantle help distinguish this adult-male Ortolan from Grey-necked Bunting E. buchanani, which also occurs in the Altai. The first-winters we found elsewhere as well as the cricket in this bird’s bill are signs that breeding has occurred here. Sometime in the next six weeks after this photo was taken, this bird and the young it was feeding would have vacated the area and begun the long journey to sub-Saharan Africa, where Ortolan Bunting spend the winter. I took this photo at 48.712288, 86.982187, elev. 1710 m (5,610 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana, Guanyu Tai-Kanasi River, 27 July 2017 (1:00; 11.5 MB; Craig Brelsford)

This post is the fourth in a five-post series about birding in Northern Xinjiang.

Northern Xinjiang, July 2017: Introduction
Northern Xinjiang, July 2017: Notes
Birds of Northern Xinjiang I
Birds of Northern Xinjiang II
Habitats of Northern Xinjiang

Other shanghaibirding.com posts on Xinjiang:

Far from Shanghai, Four Hours of Arctic, by John MacKinnon

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Gansu Bluetail, Wulingshan, Hebei

Our featured image above shows the bluetails of the world: Himalayan (left panels), Red-flanked (right panels), and in the middle the inscrutable “Gansu” Bluetail. In this post, I report a new eastern record of “Gansu” and discuss the current taxonomic limbo of the form. — Craig Brelsford

Found at Wulingshan, Hebei, 11 June 2017: “GansuBluetail Tarsiger (cyanurus? rufilatus?) “albocoeruleus.” Our record is the first for the mountain northeast of Beijing, the first for Chengde Prefecture in Hebei, and the easternmost in history for the form. Until recently, “Gansu” Bluetail was thought to breed only in Qinghai and Gansu, 1200 km (745 miles) to the southwest.

In Beijing, Hebei, and Shanxi, “albocoeruleus” has now been found on at least six mountains. Before our discovery, the easternmost of those mountains was Haituoshan, 140 air-km (87 air-miles) west of Wulingshan. Our record pushes the eastern edge of the range of “albocoeruleus” from the western side of Beijing to the mountains northeast of the metropolis.

The taxonomy of “Gansu” Bluetail is uncertain. It is currently recognized neither as a species in its own right nor as a subspecies of Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus or Himalayan Bluetail T. rufilatus. Adult-male “albocoeruleus” have a white supercilium as in cyanurus, and “albocoeruleus” are said to be closer genetically to cyanurus, but the legs of “albocoeruleus” are long, as in rufilatus.

'Gansu' Bluetail. This second-calendar-year male had not attained breeding plumage but was singing powerfully. Craig Brelsford.
‘Gansu’ Bluetail, Wulingshan. Though it had not acquired adult plumage, this second-calendar-year male was singing powerfully and defending territory. We found the bluetail near the road to Wāitáo Fēng (歪桃峰) at 40.598801, 117.476280, elev. 2020 m (6,630 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

The song of “Gansu” Bluetail is distinct from the songs of Red-flanked and Himalayan. Listen to “Gansu”:

“Gansu” Bluetail Tarsiger (cyanurus? rufilatus?) “albocoeruleus,” Wulingshan (40.598801, 117.476280), Hebei, 11 June 2017 (00:06; 1.3 MB)

Compare my very different song of Red-flanked Bluetail:

Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus, Cow’s Ear River (51.548528, 121.880737), Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, 14 July 2015 (00:03; 913 KB)

Now compare the song of Himalayan Bluetail, by Mike Nelson via xeno-canto.org:

Listen to this other recording by Mike Nelson, also labeled “Himalayan Bluetail”:

The second recording by Nelson is of “albocoeruleus.” It was made in Haidong Prefecture in eastern Qinghai, a place known as a breeding site for “albocoeruleus.” Note the similarity between Nelson’s recording from Haidong and mine from Wulingshan.

Usually, a bird with a song as distinctive as that of “albocoeruleus” would rise to at least the subspecies level. Why, then, is “albocoeruleus” languishing in taxonomic limbo?

Adult-male Narcissus Flycatcher (L) and Green-backed Flycatcher bear little resemblance to one another but were long classified as a single species. The situation was owing more to a dearth of research than to any intrinsic ID difficulties among the two species. Craig Brelsford.
Although adult-male Narcissus Flycatcher (L) and Green-backed Flycatcher (R) bear little resemblance to one another, the two species were long classified as one. The situation was owing not to difficulties in ID but to a lack of research. L: Yangkou-Rudong, Jiangsu, 29 April 2012. R: Wulingshan, 10 June 2017. (Craig Brelsford)

The reason may be a simple lack of research. Many species endemic or nearly endemic to China have only recently begun to be fine-tuned taxonomically. Green-backed Flycatcher Ficedula elisae, another bird we noted at Wulingshan, was long considered conspecific with Narcissus Flycatcher F. narcissina, despite the two species having widely separated breeding areas, highly distinctive plumage (especially males), and songs so different that playback of one species elicits no interest from individuals of the other (Clement 2006).

Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis is another species that was long overlooked. It differs subtly but consistently from Blue-and-white Flycatcher C. cyanomelana but was not recognized as a new species until 2012 (Leader & Carey 2012). Zappey’s also breeds on Wulingshan.

Will “Gansu” Bluetail get the same love and attention as Green-backed and Zappey’s Flycatcher? Researchers surely must be aware of the taxonomic uncertainty surrounding “Gansu.” Its distinctive song is a cry in the wilderness, a plea for a more accurate assessment of its place in the animal kingdom.

BIRDING REPORT: WULINGSHAN

L-R: Jan-Erik Nilsén, Michael Grunwell and Craig Brelsford. Wulingshan, Hebei, 11 June 2017.
Birding partners Jan-Erik Nilsén (L), Michael Grunwell (C), and Craig Brelsford on Wāitáo Fēng (歪桃峰), elev. 2118 m (6,949 ft.), the highest peak at Wulingshan. 11 June 2017. Our trio really clicks, but alas, it is breaking up. Michael is moving 30 June from Shanghai to Penang, Malaysia and was on his final birding trip in China. Beijing-based Jan-Erik has noted ‘Gansu’ Bluetail on six mountains and was instrumental in our discovery of the form at Wulingshan. No two birders have taught me more than Michael and Jan-Erik. (Craig Brelsford)

Who: Shanghai birders Michael Grunwell and Craig Brelsford guided by Beijing-based ace birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. Our driver was Mr. Wang (+86 189-1129-3689).

Where: Wulingshan (雾灵山, 40.598801, 117.476280), Hebei, near Beijing-Hebei border northeast of Beijing. Highest elevation: 2118 m (6,949 ft.). Birding from elev. 950 m (3,120 ft.) to summit.

When: Sat.-Sun. 10-11 June 2017

How: Eschewing undependable air travel, Michael and I took the bullet train from Shanghai. What a ride! 305 kph (190 mph) and arrival in Beijing within a minute of the time scheduled. Then a driver hired by Jan-Erik picked us up for the three-hour drive to Wulingshan. The driver accompanied us there and drove us back to Beijing.

Highlights

GansuBluetail 1 2cy male singing

UPDATE, 24 JUNE 2017: James Eaton from Birdtour Asia very kindly shared with me a photo of an adult-male “Gansu” Bluetail taken June 2011 at Huzhu Beishan, Haidong Prefecture, Qinghai.

James Eaton from Birdtour Asia very kindly shared with me a photo of an adult-male 'Gansu' Bluetail taken June 2011 at Huzhu Beishan, Haidong Prefecture, Qinghai. (James Eaton/Birdtour Asia)
‘Gansu’ Bluetail, Huzhu Beishan, Qinghai, June 2011. (James Eaton/Birdtour Asia)

Zappey’s Flycatcher 1 singing

UPDATE, 24 JUNE 2017: After an e-mail exchange with Paul Leader and Geoff Carey, I have changed my record of Zappey’s Flycatcher to Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana intermedia. The bird we found at Wulingshan is a male in its second calendar year that has not attained full adult plumage.

Of this flycatcher, photos and sound-recordings of which Leader examined, Leader writes, “[T]he darkness of the throat on your bird is not correct for first-year Zappey’s. … Morphology fits intermedia. It certainly doesn’t fit cumatilis, and I don’t see any plumage features that indicate it’s a hybrid. I think it’s just a first-year intermedia, which accounts for plumage and perhaps the variation in song” (Leader et al., in litt., 2017).

For the song as well as for more photos of this individual, please see our eBird list for 11 June 2017.

Zappey's Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis. © Craig Brelsford (craigbrelsford.com, shanghaibirding.com). 11 June 2017. Wulingshan (雾灵山), Hebei, China. Photo taken at 40.565367, 117.472742 (elev. 1330 m). Craig Brelsford.
Blue-and-white Flycatcher found 11 June 2017 at 40.565367, 117.472742, elev. 1330 m (4,360 ft.). Enjoy sound-recordings of this individual on our eBird checklist for 11 June. After corresponding by e-mail with Paul Leader and Geoff Carey, I have changed this record from Zappey’s Flycatcher to Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana intermedia. (Craig Brelsford)

Green-backed Flycatcher 3 singing

Grey-sided Thrush 12 singing

Grey-sided Thrush Turdus feae. Wulingshan (雾灵山), Hebei, China. Elev. 1610 m, on road above "Koklass Pheasant Parking Lot," 40.569817, 117.474469. Craig Brelsford.
Grey-sided Thrush Turdus feae, Wulingshan, 10 June. Found at elev. 1610 m (5,280 ft.) on road above ‘Koklass Pheasant Parking Lot’ (40.569817, 117.474469). Grey-sided Thrush breeds at a few scattered sites in Hebei, Beijing, and Shanxi. The IUCN classifies it as Vulnerable. To hear my recordings of its song, see our eBird checklist for 10 June. (Craig Brelsford)

Also

Koklass Pheasant 2
Himalayan Cuckoo 3
Large Hawk-Cuckoo 1
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker 1
White-backed Woodpecker 3
White-throated Rock Thrush 1
Asian Stubtail 1
Thick-billed Warbler 1

Others

Grey Nightjar, White-bellied Redstart, Chinese Thrush, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler, and Yellow-streaked Warbler.

Notes

— We got impressive results in only a day and a half birding—albeit with perfect weather. Wulingshan can be done from Shanghai in a weekend!

— Special thanks to my partner ​Jan-Erik Nilsén. Jan-Erik heard the song of the bluetail, recognized it, and called me over. Jan-Erik is highly experienced with “Gansu” Bluetail, having seen and sound-recorded the form on Haituoshan as well as at Lingshan and Baicaopan (Beijing-Hebei), Xiaowutaishan (Hebei), and Wutaishan (Shanxi).

— Thanks also to Paul Holt for informing me about records of “Gansu” Bluetail in the Beijing area.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brelsford, C. 2017. eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37503446. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York, USA. Available: https://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: June 24, 2017). Note: This is the Wulingshan list for 10 June 2017.

———. 2017. eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37519385. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York, USA. Available: https://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: June 24, 2017). Note: Wulingshan list for 11 June 2017.

Clement, P. (2006). Family Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers). Pp. 131-2 (Narcissus Flycatcher) in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 11. Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Leader, Paul J. & Carey, Geoff J. Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis, a forgotten Chinese breeding endemic. Forktail 28 (2012): 121-128.

Leader, Paul J., Carey, Geoff J., Brelsford, Craig, Grunwell, Michael, and Nilsén, Jan-Erik. Series of e-mail messages, 18-20 June 2017.

Featured image: Left-hand panels: Himalayan Bluetail Tarsiger rufilatus. Top: Baihualing, Yunnan, 10 Feb. 2014. Bottom: Rongshu Wang, Yunnan, 26 Jan. 2014. C: “GansuBluetail T. (cyanurus? rufilatus?) “albocoeruleus,” Wulingshan (40.598801, 117.476280), Hebei, 11 June 2017. Right-hand panels: Red-flanked Bluetail T. cyanurus, Botanical Gardens, Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

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