Editor’s note: My photos of the year, 2016. Clockwise from top left: Cinereous Vulture on Chongming Island in January kicked off a year that saw a parade of interesting sightings in Shanghai; ultra-rare Band-bellied Crake was the highlight of my three-week trip to a never-birded area of Heilongjiang; on 10 Dec. members of Shanghai’s ever-growing birding community had a big day out at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui; in a two-month expedition to Qinghai, meeting this Tibetan Lynx was my biggest thrill.
Happy New Year! This post is a photographic summary of my birding year 2016.
Here are images of birds more commonly noted in the Shanghai region.
From 16 Feb. to 5 March, Elaine and I were in Yunnan, where we explored the Dulong Gorge, a remote valley in the northwestern corner of the province. Birding there is excellent, and the views are sublime.
After days of rain, we were rewarded with this moon-set at dawn on 26 Feb.
We noted 170 species of bird at Dulong. One of the best was Grandala.
For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was Craig’s Bird of the Trip.
Birds have plenty of places to hide in the thickly vegetated Dulong Gorge. Sometimes we got lucky, as with this Chestnut-headed Tesia.
Elaine and I spent most of the summer in Qinghai. We noted 195 species of bird, but our most unforgettable moment was supplied by a mammal. This is Tibetan Lynx.
Tibetan Partridge was commonly noted in eastern Yushu Prefecture.
Another great chicken: White Eared Pheasant.
At desolate Hala Lake, elev. 4077 m, we found Tibetan Sandgrouse.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch is hardy. It thrives at high elevations.
Henderson’s Ground Jay is master of arid scrubland …
… while Isabelline Wheatear is master of the semi-deserts of Wulan County.
We had great partners in Qinghai. One of them was Michael Grunwell.
Landscapes in Qinghai are beyond beautiful. Here are my favorites.
A closer look at the dunes.
I used my iPhone 6 for this image of a Chinese Juniper gazing out at the Dulan Mountains. The tree clings to the slope at elev. 3960 m.
From 26 May to 12 June 2016, Elaine Du and I visited her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang, China. The area was never properly birded before we arrived there, and our discoveries have been many. The biggest highlight was Band-bellied Crake.
Mandarin Duck breed in Boli County. We found this drake in a small pool deep in Xidaquan Forest.
In the Manchurian forest, woodpeckers abound. The most common species is White-backed Woodpecker.
Elaine Du is my wife and partner. The year 2016 was our third in a row of non-stop birding. Although she is happy birding and has put together an impressive life list, the Heilongjiang native is never happier than when she is in her hometown.
Through thick and thin we tough it out. Here we are smiling despite being confined to our tent during a rain shower at Hala Lake.
At Eling Lake in Qinghai, where the Yellow River and China are born, Elaine and I posed for this self-portrait.
Elaine is a little short, but she never gives up. In Dulong Gorge, she improvised a way to see Grandala, a life bird.
Elaine is proud of the remnant Manchurian forest near her home in Boli. Here we are in front of a stand of Silver Birch.
People like Elaine’s family put food on the table for the city folks.
The Shanghai Birding Community
In 2015 I started shanghaibirding.com and the Shanghai Birding WeChat group. In 2016, the number of readers of the Web site and members of the chat group steadily grew. On 10 Dec., the day of the Shanghai Birding Christmas party, I led a group of birders to Cape Nanhui. There we found a pair of Red-crowned Crane, a first for mainland Shanghai. Here is the group after the historic event.
Editor’s note: In recent weeks, Shanghai has had extraordinary visits by three species of crane. Since 12 Nov. 2016, 3 Siberian Crane, a Critically Endangered species, have been recorded regularly in a reclaimed area of Hengsha Island (photo above, left). On 10 Dec. 2016, Endangered Red-crowned Crane made the first recorded visit by that species to Cape Nanhui (top right). Also since 12 Nov. 2016, Vulnerable Hooded Crane has been recorded regularly at Cape Nanhui (bottom right). Before 12 Nov., Hooded Crane had never been recorded on the Shanghai Peninsula. Photos by Craig Brelsford.
The appearance on 10 Dec. 2016 of 2 Red-crowned Crane at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui was more than just a historic, first-ever sighting. It was a message. The endangered cranes, as well as the Siberian Crane on Hengsha Island and Hooded Crane at Cape Nanhui, are telling us that habitat is steadily disappearing elsewhere along the Chinese coast, particularly in Jiangsu; that the habitats in Shanghai are some of the best that remain; and that those habitats require world-class protection. The most pressing need is the creation of a world-class, small to mid-sized wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui.
Errant cranes migrating along the Chinese coast may once have settled for a while somewhere in Jiangsu. Every year, however, cranes migrating along the coast of that densely populated province find fewer and fewer places suitable to them. My wife Elaine Du and I have surveyed the Jiangsu coastline from Qidong on the Yangtze River 250 km north to Yancheng National Nature Reserve. We have seen with our own eyes the dramatic transformation of the Jiangsu coast. Even areas in Jiangsu receiving considerable international attention, such as Yangkou and the coastal areas of Dongtai, are under threat.
Cape Nanhui may not seem like a first-rate natural area, but it is in better condition than almost any place I have seen between Qidong and Yancheng. I say, therefore, that the recent crane sightings in Shanghai have come about in large part because elsewhere so much has been lost. The cranes have nowhere else to go.
And that is why conserving Cape Nanhui is so important. Shanghai is facing a crisis, a “danger-opportunity” (危机). The 危 or danger is that amid the wholesale destruction of so much coastal habitat elsewhere, Shanghai will follow suit and destroy its remaining good habitat. The 机 or opportunity is for Shanghai to gather into its bosom the birds ejected from Jiangsu–to be not only the economic but also the conservationist leader on the Chinese coast. The creation at Cape Nanhui of an easily accessible, world-class, small to mid-sized wetland reserve along the lines of Sungei Buloh in Singapore would be a way of avoiding the 危 and seizing the 机.
The case for an easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could scarcely be more clear-cut:
(1) Cape Nanhui is of extraordinary environmental importance. The tip of the Shanghai Peninsula between the Yangtze River and Hangzhou Bay, Cape Nanhui is a stepping stone for birds migrating across those bodies of water. Cape Nanhui also holds large reed beds, habitat critical to Reed Parrotbill and other species at risk.
Nature reserves have been established only on the extreme fringes of the city-province (which is a third the size of Wales). There are no reserves in mainland Pudong, a giant coastal district nearly twice the size of Singapore. Nowhere in this megalopolis can residents without a car enjoy the natural side of Shanghai, a city with an extraordinarily rich natural heritage. There is no known plan to conserve any of the dozens of square kilometers of reclaimed land on Hengsha.
(3) Because it is in the back yard of Shanghai, a city-province of more than 25 million people, a well-run, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui could be the match to light the fire of conservation across all China.
Hundreds of thousands of children could visit the reserve with their parents using nothing more than the Metro and a quick taxi ride and be sleeping in their own bed that night, dreaming about the wild birds they had seen that day. For millions of parents and their kids, the weekend could be “Saturday, Disney; Sunday, Cape Nanhui Wetland.” A day at a Cape Nanhui Wetland would be an early introduction to the glories of natural Shanghai and would foster an appreciation of the natural world.
If Shanghai can be a world economic center and have world-class airports and a world-class skyline and world-class entertainment such as Disney, then it can and must have world-class preservation of its priceless coastline and migratory birds.
I repeat: The case for a world-class, easily accessible wetland reserve at Cape Nanhui is clear-cut.
111 SPECIES AT CORE SHANGHAI SITES
Elaine and I birded four of the eight days between 3 Dec. and 10 Dec. 2016, noting 111 species. We birded three days at Cape Nanhui, half a day on Hengsha Island, and half a day at Binjiang Forest Park in Pudong. On 10 Dec. Elaine and I led a group of members of the Shanghai Birding WeChat group on a tour of Nanhui. We birded the other days with Shanghai-based U.K. birder Michael Grunwell and U.S. birder Susan Lessner.
Major highlights were 2 Red-crowned Crane and Hooded Crane at Cape Nanhui and 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha as well as Baikal Teal and Red-breasted Flycatcher at Nanhui and Ferruginous Duck on Hengsha.
Nanhui also gave us three-day counts of 20 VulnerableSwan Goose, 14 Greater White-fronted Goose, 190 Tundra Swan (bewickii), 255 Common Shelduck, 11 Greater Scaup, 4 Black-necked Grebe, Brown Crake, VulnerableSaunders’s Gull, 2 Mew GullLarus canus, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull (heuglini), late Eurasian Wryneck, uncommon winter visitor Dusky Warbler, 22 Near ThreatenedReed Parrotbill, and 2 extralimital Common Starling.
Hengsha gave us a rare Shanghai sighting of adult-male Hen Harrier as well as 3 Chinese Grey Shrike and impressive numbers of buntings. In a single stretch of scrub just 500 m long, we counted 14 Little Bunting, 18 Rustic Bunting, 17 Yellow-throated Bunting, 4 Black-faced Bunting, and 150 Pallas’s Reed Bunting.
Binjiang Forest Park once again proved to be one of the only places in urban Shanghai where Great Spotted Woodpecker is reliable. Thrushes were numerous, with Naumann’s Thrush leading the list.
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!
We spent a restful Saturday night at Greentree Inn (Gélín Háotài Jiǔdiàn [格林豪泰酒店], 160 yuan/night for clean, modern room with fast Internet and breakfast, +86 (0) 515-85820999; 32.749262, 120.850125). What a difference a good room makes!
Thanks to Michael for teaching us birding, to Stephan for his excellent driving, to Xueping for her quick mind, and to my dear Elaine for her constant positive attitude.
List 1 of 2 for Sat. 9 Jan. 2016 (65 species). Yancheng (Yánchéng [盐城]), a prefecture-level city in NE Jiangsu, China. Important points visited: area S of Crane Paradise (Hè Lèyuán [鹤乐园]; 33.600960, 120.507412), and points between Crane Paradise and the bend in the road on Dafeng Seawall (Dàfēng Hǎidī [大丰海堤]; 33.514056, 120.530951). Thick morning haze then mostly sunny skies; low -1°C, high 8°C. Visibility 0-10 km. Wind S/SSW 6 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 182 (Yancheng). Sunrise 07:04, sunset 17:10. SAT 09 JAN 2016 08:00-15:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.
Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris 400
Greater White-fronted Goose A. albifrons 10
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii 4
Gadwall Anas strepera 50
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 100
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 100
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 20
Northern Pintail A. acuta 20
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 70
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 300
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 2
Smew Mergellus albellus 16
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 1250
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 18
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 50
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 20
Oriental Stork Ciconia boyciana 2
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 90
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 60
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 1
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 3
Little Egret E. garzetta 50
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 15
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 2
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 4
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 150
Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis 9
Common Crane G. grus 250
Hooded Crane G. monacha 10
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 2
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 320
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 3
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 2
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus heuglini 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 7
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 6
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 8
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 10
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 30
Japanese Tit Parus minor 1
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 8
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 2
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 120
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 3
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 10
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 80
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 20
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 20
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 50
List 2 of 2 for Sat. 9 Jan. 2016 (21 species). Great Dongtai Surf ‘n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), viewing area on W side of lagoons (32.850988, 120.958103), S entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (32.759765, 120.928722), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Thick morning haze then mostly sunny skies; low -1°C, high 8°C. Visibility 0-10 km. Wind S/SSW 6 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 182 (Yancheng). Sunrise 07:04, sunset 17:10. SAT 09 JAN 2016 16:20-17:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 200
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 8
Northern Pintail A. acuta 2
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 150
Smew Mergellus albellus 1
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 6
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 20
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 20
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Great Egret A. alba 50
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 50
Little Egret E. garzetta 20
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 50
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 200
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 30
Saunders’s Gull C. saundersi 80
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 15
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 10
List 1 of 2 for Sun. 10 Jan. 2016 (33 species). Great Dongtai Surf ‘n’ Turf Birding Trail, a 40-km loop on coast of Dongtai (Dōngtái [东台]), a county-level city in Jiangsu, China. Important points on Trail are N entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (Dōngtái Hǎidī [东台海堤], 32.868218, 120.912340), T-junction on Dongtai Levee Road (32.855576, 120.896557), viewing area on W side of lagoons (32.850988, 120.958103), S entrance to new sea-wall road on Dongtai Levee Road (32.759765, 120.928722), SE corner of sea wall (32.759499, 120.962893), & NE corner of sea wall (32.872444, 120.951522). Thick morning haze giving way to mostly cloudy skies; high 9°C. Visibility 10 km. Wind E 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 174 (Nantong). Sunrise 06:59, sunset 17:09. SUN 10 JAN 2016 07:30-11:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 368
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 16
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 110
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 305
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 11
Northern Pintail A. acuta 17
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 200
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 15
Greater Scaup A. marila 14
Smew Mergellus albellus 3
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 26
Red-breasted Merganser M. serrator 5
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 72
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 13
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 27
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 10
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 217
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 200
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 610
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 11
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 57
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 3
Dunlin Calidris alpina 40
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 16
Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus heuglini 2
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 3
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis
List 2 of 2 for Sun. 10 Jan. 2016 (26 species). Yangkou (Yángkǒu [洋口]), fishing town in Rudong County (Rúdōng Xiàn [如东县]), Jiangsu, China (32.537730, 121.017746). Among areas visited: Haiyin Temple (Hǎiyìn Sì [海印寺], 32.558756, 121.044740) and reed beds near Haiyin Temple (32.557387, 121.037381). Thick morning haze giving way to mostly cloudy skies; high 9°C. Visibility 10 km. Wind E 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 174 (Nantong). Sunrise 06:59, sunset 17:09. SUN 10 JAN 2016 12:00-14:15. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 4
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 10
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 21
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 35
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 20
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 5
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 10
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 10
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 10
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 5
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 2 leucopsis
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 6
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 50
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 10
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 3
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 3
Featured image: L-R: Stephan Popp, Michael Grunwell, & Elaine Du view 1250 Common Merganser near Crane Paradise, Yancheng, Jiangsu, China, 9 January 2016.