On our first birding trip of 2016, Elaine and I noted 85 species at Yancheng, Dongtai, and Yangkou. We reunited with the Dream Team, which includes Senior Birder Michael Grunwell, husband-wife team Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, my wife Elaine Du, and me. We added evidence that the point 32.557278 121.037111 is a reliable site for Brown-cheeked RailRallus indicus, and at Dongtai we found a sub-adult Mute Swan. At Yancheng, we found 9 Red-crowned Crane, 10 Hooded Crane, 250 Common Crane, 2 Oriental Stork, 1250 Common Merganser, and 8 Reed Parrotbill. Among our big finds at Dongtai were 11 Red-breasted Merganser, 14 Greater Scaup, 80 Saunders’s Gull, and 610 Grey Plover. We recorded Pied Avocet, Black-winged Kite, and Smew at Dongtai and Yancheng, and we found Green Sandpiper at Yancheng and Yangkou.
In May 2010, I found Brown-cheeked Rail at the point in Yangkou noted above. I forgot about the sighting and did not search again until last 15 Nov., when I found Brown-cheeked Rail after a 30-minute wait. On Sunday, I made my second of two tries at the site and was successful again.
Using the evidence I have presented here, you may believe, as I do, that the site is reliable for Rallus indicus. If you need the bird, then go with a few more birders if possible, stand in the area shown on the Google Map linked to above, spread out, and pay attention to the edge of the reeds. On Sunday, in contrast to 15 Nov., the rail never showed clearly; only Elaine’s sharp eye confirmed the presence of the scurrying rail. I got a look that first time, and about 30 minutes later, the bird showed again, and everyone got a quick view. The bird was calling softly from time to time and called loudly, but only briefly, when I first played back Water Rail R. aquaticus. (I played back R. aquaticus because the recordings I have of R. indicus are poor.) If you have qualms about playback, then you may still be able to see the bird, but be prepared to wait. If you are lucky, Reed Parrotbill will show; during our wait, we had Pallas’s Reed Bunting, Rustic Bunting, a Common Snipe that was hiding in plain sight, and an unusual winter view of Chinese Pond Heron.
With last weekend’s work at Yancheng, Elaine and I completed a survey (which began last year) of the Jiangsu coast from just north of Yancheng down to the Yangtze River. Along that 300 km stretch of coast, the best place to bird is Dongtai, followed by Yangkou and Yancheng. Besides those three areas, there is little left. There may be pockets that I have overlooked, but I doubt they are substantial; I doubt there is some secret location holding 10,000 waders.
The coastal area of Dongtai city is under no environmental protection that I know of, and in fact is slated to be transformed for aquaculture. At Yancheng, the Red-crowned Crane we saw were shuttling back and forth between fields, with busy farmers, noisy farming machines, and farmhouses never far away. At Yangkou, the smell of chemicals grows ever stronger, just as birdable areas behind the coastal wall grow ever smaller and the invasive Smooth Cordgrass on the mudflats grows ever more extensive.
Jiangsu packs 80 million people into an area less than a quarter the size of Sweden or California. If Sweden were as densely populated as Jiangsu, then its population would be about the same (320 million) as that of the United States. The GPP (Gross Provincial Product) of Jiangsu is one-third the GDP of India. A dense population of people with a culture that cares little for conservation and operates an economic powerhouse: That is Jiangsu. No wonder the Jiangsu coast is being chopped to pieces!
Thanks to Michael for teaching us birding, to Stephan for his excellent driving, to Xueping for her quick mind, and to Elaine for her cheery attitude.
Featured image: L-R: Stephan Popp, Michael Grunwell, & Elaine Du view 1250 Common Merganser near Crane Paradise, Yancheng, Jiangsu, 9 January 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
On Saturday 12 Dec., birding once again with the Dream Team, Elaine and I noted 69 species at Lesser Yangshan and Nanhui. We found Horned Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, and Greater Scaup at Dishui Lake, we noted 600 Common Shelduck off the coast at Nanhui, and we added Tundra Swan, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Brown-eared Bulbul, and White-rumped Munia to our Shanghai-area autumn-winter list.
Lesser Yangshan has been thin lately, but it was with past December views of Brown-eared Bulbul in mind that we made the 25-km trek across the Donghai Bridge to the little island. Sure enough, we quickly found a single Brown-eared Bulbul, a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai area. The bird was in Garbage Dump Gully and was flying excitedly from tree to tree. We guessed it had just arrived. Michael was pleased with his lifer. In the trees in the courtyard we found a pair of Japanese White-eye.
Finding little else of interest, we left Lesser Yangshan after less than an hour. Our first stop at Nanhui was an overgrown field near Dishui Lake. Here we found a strong mix of buntings, among them Rustic Bunting and Yellow-browed Bunting.
At Dishui Lake, the first bird I laid eyes on through the scope was the Red-breasted Merganser. Xueping snapped up record shots of the distant duck. The straight bill of our Red-breasted distinguishes it from the hooked bill of Common Merganser. Tufted Duck were the most numerous diving duck, and Falcated Duck the most numerous dabbler. The Horned Grebe, also known as Slavonian Grebe, was in the same northeastern corner of Dishui where Elaine and I found 3 Horned Grebe six days ago.
A quick stop at the Magic Parking Lot once again revealed late Barn Swallow. Absent from Dishui Lake, they were present in their dozens over the smaller pond behind the Holiday Inn. For the past three weeks, we have noted Barn Swallow there and nowhere else. A Peregrine Falcon soared over the carpark.
The problem with the sea-wall road at Nanhui is that another wall runs along the road, blocking one’s view of the mudflats below. Barred thereby from scanning as one drives, one is forced to make periodic stops and get out of the car. During one of these stops, we found the impressive flock of Common Shelduck. A much luckier view was that of the Common Goldeneye. A random stop produced a single white spot in the muddy sea far out. The scope brought him in just before he took another long dive.
At Nanhui we ran into Hé Xīn (何鑫). He alerted us to the presence of Tundra Swan, and he told us he had seen an Oriental Stork. He also found Swan Goose. We were able to locate the Tundra Swan but missed the stork and Swan Goose.
The Dream Team consists of veteran birder Michael Grunwell, husband-and-wife team Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, my wife Elaine Du, and me.
With the new additions, Elaine’s and my Shanghai autumn-winter list now contains 260 species. We started the list on 11 Sept. 2015.
List 1 of 2 for Sat. 12 Dec. 2015 (17 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), & Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327). Mostly cloudy. Winds NNE 11 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:44, sunset 16:52. High 11°C. SAT 12 DEC 2015 07:00-07:50. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.