Oriental Plover Highlight 103-Species Weekend

On Sat. 9 April and Sun. 10 April 2016, Elaine Du and I noted 103 species at three Shanghai-area birding hot spots. We had Oriental Plover and Black-faced Spoonbill on Hengsha, the latter present also at Cape Nanhui, where we found in addition Brown Crake, Greater Sand Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Grassbird, Bluethroat, and Citrine Wagtail. Lesser Yangshan yielded out-of-range Rufous-faced Warbler and our season’s first flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher. Other season’s firsts were Eurasian Wryneck and Oriental Reed Warbler on Hengsha, Oriental Pratincole, Japanese Thrush, Tristram’s Bunting, and Meadow Bunting on Lesser Yangshan, and Broad-billed Sandpiper at Nanhui. Garganey and singing Brown-flanked Bush Warbler were on Hengsha and Temminck’s Stint and Grey-backed Thrush were noted at Nanhui. Red-throated Pipit were on Hengsha and Nanhui, as were Intermediate Egret, “SwintailSnipe, Reed Parrotbill, and Chestnut-eared Bunting.

Citrine Wagtail, Nanhui, 10 April 2016. Perhaps the most beautiful of wagtails, Motacilla citreola is a scarce passage migrant in Shanghai.
Citrine Wagtail, Nanhui, 10 April 2016. Perhaps the most beautiful of wagtails, Motacilla citreola is a scarce passage migrant in Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

On Sat. 9 April Elaine and I birded Hengsha, the alluvial island at the mouth of the Yangtze. Our target was Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus, which we found after a short search. Oriental Plover breeds in deserts and steppes mainly in Mongolia, and in China in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia. For Elaine, Ori Pluv was a virtual lifer, as her only previous experience with the species was our quick, long-distance look at an individual near Hulun Lake last July.

It is spring and Meadow Bunting are staking out territories on Lesser Yangshan. This aggressive little fellow had attracted the attention of a female, which kept to the undergrowth while he roared. Common on Lesser Yangshan, Emberiza cioides is almost never recorded on the nearby coast.
It is spring and Meadow Bunting are staking out territories on Lesser Yangshan. This aggressive little fellow had attracted the attention of a female, which kept to the undergrowth while he roared. Common on Lesser Yangshan, Emberiza cioides is almost never recorded on the nearby coast. (Craig Brelsford)

On Sun. 10 April Elaine and I were joined by Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell. We noted 90 species on Lesser Yangshan Island and at Nanhui.

The three of us found 30 singing Marsh Grassbird in the large reed bed at 30.866006, 121.939614, a point 2.8 km south of the lock at Nanhui and 4.1 km south of the Magic Parking Lot/Holiday Inn (30.882784, 121.972782). An unpaved road leads into the marsh. The grassbirds were noted only in that reed bed and not in other seemingly suitable reed beds elsewhere at Nanhui. The grassbirds were using only those parts of the reed bed far from the road. They were making their curving display flight.

Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Nanhui, Shanghai, 10 April 2016.
Marsh Grassbird performing song flight at Cape Nanhui, 10 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Marsh Grassbird is also known as Japanese Swamp Warbler and Japanese Marsh Warbler. It is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. The IUCN notes that Marsh Grassbird is “very sensitive to habitat structure and does not tolerate vegetation that is too short or too tall.” It is threatened mainly by the conversion of its wetland habitat to other uses.

Speaking of conversions, new construction is changing all three of the birding spots we visited last weekend. The transformation at Nanhui has been noted by me here and here. Lesser Yangshan Island is being converted from an island to an even bigger megaport, and Garbage Dump Coastal Plain (30.638860, 122.060089) is steadily growing unbirdable. A bright spot on Lesser Yangshan is the new wetland (30.611902, 122.114873) on reclaimed land between Lesser Yangshan and Dazhitou Island.

Will this 100-hectare plantation of trees add a new dimension to birding on Hengsha?
Will this 100-hectare plantation of trees add a new dimension to birding on Hengsha? (Craig Brelsford)

In the reclaimed area on Hengsha, a 100-hectare area at 31.299495, 121.893845 is being converted from savanna to forest. That is an area about two-thirds the size of Century Park in Pudong. This may be good news, as the tree plantation may attract forest species such as flycatchers and leaf warblers, families that on the formerly treeless reclaimed area at Hengsha have always been scarce.

The springtime birding season in Shanghai is really picking up steam. On the Web site of the Shanghai Wild Bird Society, shwbs.org, birders have recently reported Long-billed Dowitcher, Asian Dowitcher, and Ruff on Chongming and Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Black Redstart on Hengsha.

Intermediate Egret with prey, Hengsha, 9 April 2016.
Intermediate Egret with prey, Hengsha, 9 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Green Sandpiper in gully below Guanyin Temple, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016.
Green Sandpiper in gully below Guanyin Temple, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Around sunset, this Brown Crake emerged onto the grassy base of the sea wall to forage. I had never noted Brown Crake in Shanghai. Nanhui, 10 April 2016.
Around sunset, this Brown Crake emerged onto the grassy base of the sea wall to forage. I had never noted Brown Crake in Shanghai. Nanhui, 10 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Craig Brelsford in Garbage Dump Gully, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Craig Brelsford in Garbage Dump Gully, Lesser Yangshan Island, 10 April 2016. (Elaine Du)

Featured image: Oriental Plover, Hengsha Island, Shanghai, 9 April 2016.

The Surge

Spring has surged into Shanghai! Elaine Du and I noted 92 species on the Qingming weekend. We found 212 endangered Great Knot at Nanhui and Bluethroat and Brown-headed Thrush on Chongming. Other highlights were 2 Greater Scaup and Black-necked Grebe on Chongming and at Nanhui 2 endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting, “Swintail” Snipe, 10 Saunders’s Gull (rare in Shanghai), 3 endangered Far Eastern Curlew, 2 Eurasian Bittern booming amid the sound of traffic, and 10 Pacific Swift.

'Swintail' Snipe, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Note the bill, shorter than the very long bill of Common Snipe, and the underwing, with 'Swintail' showing a uniformly dark, banded underwing and Common usually showing white underwing coverts. Note the pale, diffuse trailing edge to the wing of 'Swintail,' in contrast to the bright-white trailing edge of Common. 'Swintail' is birder's jargon meaning Swinhoe's Snipe or Pin-tailed Snipe, two species that are nearly impossible to separate in the field. The snipe pictured here could be either.
‘Swintail’ Snipe, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Note the bill, shorter than the very long bill of Common Snipe, and the underwing, with ‘Swintail’ showing a uniformly dark, banded underwing and Common usually showing white underwing coverts. Note the pale, diffuse trailing edge to the wing of ‘Swintail,’ in contrast to the bright-white trailing edge of Common. ‘Swintail’ is birder’s jargon meaning Swinhoe’s Snipe or Pin-tailed Snipe, two species that are nearly impossible to separate in the field. The snipe pictured here could be either.

On Sun. 3 April 2016, fog once again kept Elaine and me off Hengsha Island, our original destination. Driving our rented Skoda Scout, we left the Hengsha ferry terminal on Changxing Island and took the Shanghai Changjiang Bridge across the Yangtze to Chongming Island. Visibility was less than 100 meters when we finally arrived at Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve. Rain, usually a drizzle, sometimes a shower, let up only briefly, around noon.

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: This 'Swintail' was photographed 13 Sept. 2014 in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu. Yes, sigh, it is nearly impossible to distinguish Swinhoe's from Pin-tailed in the field. But it is possible, and much fun, to pick out 'Swintail' from Common! Note here the pale panels on the wings of 'Swintail' (visible in 1a, 2, and 3), note the lighter streaking on the back of this 'Swintail' than would be the case in a typical Common, and observe the lack of white trailing edge to the wings.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: This ‘Swintail’ was photographed 13 Sept. 2014 in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu. Yes, sigh, it is nearly impossible to distinguish Swinhoe’s from Pin-tailed in the field. But it is possible, and much fun, to pick out ‘Swintail’ from Common! Note here the pale panels on the wings of ‘Swintail’ (visible in 1a, 2, and 3), note the lighter streaking on the back of this ‘Swintail’ than would be the case in a typical Common, and observe the lack of white trailing edge to the wings.

We stayed away from fee and permit areas. The northeast sea wall, with its well-protected mudflats beyond, is blocked off by guards wearing camouflage uniforms. A road running inside and parallel to the sea wall is not in a permit area and affords views of the canal-pond at the base of the wall. Reeds running along this inner road are the first tall, thick vegetation a bird flying along the coastline is likely to see and contained several migrants, among them the Brown-headed Thrush and a leaf warbler that may have been Chinese Leaf Warbler. The Phyllosc was soaking wet, and the characteristics I was noting, such as its seeming lack of a strong coronal stripe like Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, may have merely been the effect of the water. We noted the bright yellow rump, were starting to get hopeful–and then the bird disappeared.

On the eastern end of Chongming, we covered the farmland inside the sea wall and did not drive in the permit area atop the wall. We found the Bluethroat at the very good “snipe corner” (31.479537, 121.937001) south of Changjiang Lu. True to form, the skulker quickly hid away, refusing to flush or show. Still, the fleeting glimpse we got was Elaine’s best view ever of Bluethroat.

Common Snipe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 3 April 2016. Can you see the three main differences between this bird and the 'Swintail' above? To wit: longer bill, whiter underwings, and whiter trailing edge to the wings (visible, as here, even from below).
Common Snipe, Chongming Island, Shanghai, 3 April 2016. Can you see the three main differences between this bird and the ‘Swintail’ above? To wit: longer bill, whiter underwings, and whiter trailing edge to the wings (visible, as here, even from below).

My walk through the reeds in pursuit of the Bluethroat scared up 2 Japanese Quail. Common Snipe were numerous, a pair of Oriental Skylark were hollowing out a tiny cup in the grass, and Water/Brown-cheeked Rail squealed once and fell silent. I recorded a fifth distinctive vocalization of Reed Parrotbill; I call this one the “siren.” (For the previous four calls, please visit “Amid the Din of the Diggers.”)

Reed Parrotbill, siren call (00:04; 954 KB)

On Mon. 4 April, Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell once again joined Elaine and me at Nanhui. We noted 73 species. Whereas outings in March gave us a “spring emerging from winter” impression, on Monday the transition to springtime felt complete. All that was missing were the flycatchers and the leaves on the trees in the microforests, those migrant traps dotting the sea wall.

Yellow-breasted Bunting, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Changes to wintering sites, loss of reed-bed habitat for roosting sites, and especially trapping for meat in southern China have reduced the population of this once-abundant species to a fraction of its former strength.
Yellow-breasted Bunting, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Changes to wintering sites, loss of reed-bed habitat for roosting sites, and especially trapping for meat in southern China have reduced the population of this once-abundant species to a fraction of its former strength.

We rented no car, instead relying on the Shanghai Metro, taxis, a ride from a pair of friendly tourists, and our legs. With sunny skies and temperatures reaching 18 degrees, the weather was nearly perfect, and the exercise put us in a good mood.

The birding area at Nanhui is steadily going from “half-forgotten, mostly empty, natural” to “popular, busy, recreational.” Cars were packed around Nanhuizui Park and the Holiday Inn, and Qingming tourists were streaming out of the buses. Amid the commotion we found our first-of-season singing Manchurian/Japanese Bush Warbler as well as a single Asian House Martin flying among the swifts, the suddenly numerous Barn Swallow, and a single Red-rumped Swallow. At the Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), we climbed to the deck of the derelict building next to the Holiday Inn. There, we enjoyed the expansive views, noted more Pacific Swift, and wondered how on earth a building as huge as this could be built and then immediately abandoned.

Asian House Martin, 4 April 2016.
Asian House Martin, 4 April 2016.

North of the Nanhuizui area, photographers were working on 12 Black-winged Stilt that were using a pond close to Microforest 2  (30.926039, 121.970725). Around that pond we found Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The quiet, half-fallow fields behind the pond evoked memories of old Nanhui. We found our Yellow-breasted Bunting here as well as Chestnut-eared Bunting and about 60 of our 90 Pallas’s Reed Bunting. We were looking for but failed to find Japanese Reed Bunting. We noted the absence of harriers, which normally would be hovering over the fields and reed beds.

Great Knot were seen in flight and on the mudflats as the tide receded.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 3 April 2016 (57 species)

Oriental Skylark, Chongming, 3 April 2016. This bird, one of the pair whose nest I saw being constructed, shows a pale-buff trailing edge to the wing, not the noticeably brighter white trailing edge characteristic of Eurasian. The tail is shorter than is typically the case in Eurasian.
Oriental Skylark, Chongming, 3 April 2016. This bird, one of the pair whose nest I saw being constructed, shows a pale-buff trailing edge to the wing, not the noticeably brighter white trailing edge characteristic of Eurasian. The tail is shorter than is typically the case in Eurasian.

Around Chongming Dongtan National Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve (Chóngmíng Dōngtān Niǎolèi Guójiājí Zìrán Bǎohùqū [崇明东滩鸟类国家级自然保护区]; 31.510109, 121.961955), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China. Includes birds noted along unnamed road running parallel to canal at base of eastern sea wall, in particular a spot called Snipe Corner (31.479537, 121.937001), as well as the canal-pond at inner base of northeastern sea wall, in particular the site at 31.555579, 121.942261. Light rain & showers; low 11° C, high 15° C. Wind NNW 15 km/h. Visibility 100 m (a.m.), 3 km (p.m.). PM2.5 AQI: 119 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:39, sunset 18:16. SUN 03 APR 2016 06:50-16:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 7
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 14
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 8
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 10
Greater Scaup A. marila 2
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 15
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 6
Great Egret A. alba 8
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 18
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 4
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 400
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 24
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 1
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 4
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 22
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 5
Common Redshank T. totanus 16
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 4
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 9
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Vega Gull Larus vegae 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3
Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 30
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 2 (nesting pair)
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark A. arvensis/gulgula 50
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 4
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 54
Phylloscopus sp. 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 6
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 100
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 4
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 11
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 450
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 14
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 1
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 8
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 38
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 3

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 4 April 2016 (73 species)

Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016.
Pacific Swift, Nanhui, Shanghai, 4 April 2016.

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Shanghai, China. List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) and Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489). Sunny; low 9° C, high 17° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind ENE 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 91 (moderate). Sunrise 05:38, sunset 18:16. SUN 04 APR 2016 09:00-17:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 26
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 15
Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 3
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 10
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 2 booming
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Purple Heron A. purpurea 1
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Accipiter sp. 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 10
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 50
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 12
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 8
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 8
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 1
Common Snipe G. gallinago 15
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 2
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 3
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 9
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 8
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 6
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 4
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 212
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 1
Dunlin C. alpina 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Saunders’s Gull C. saundersi 10
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 13
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 7
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus 10
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/gulgula 20
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 7
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 1
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 1
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1 singing
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 10
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 80
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 18
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 25
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 26
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 28
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 4
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 8
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 4
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 3
White Wagtail M. alba 12 (1 lugens)
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 5
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 11
Little Bunting E. pusilla 20
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 1
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 8
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 90

Mammals

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1

Michael Grunwell (L) checking Mark Brazil's Birds of East Asia, Craig Brelsford checking Collins Bird Guide, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael Grunwell (L) checking Mark Brazil’s Birds of East Asia, Craig Brelsford checking Collins Bird Guide, Nanhui, 4 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.

Featured image: Western Osprey carries a fish while flying over Dishui Lake in Shanghai, Mon. 4 April 2016. Lingang, a satellite city that did not exist 10 years ago, looms in the background.

Amid the Din of the Diggers

On Sat. 26 March, Elaine Du and I noted 53 species at Nanhui in southeast Shanghai. Despite air pollution that made my nose run, we enjoyed yet another day of Metro + walk-’n’-bird. We covered 15 km on foot, going camera-less and carrying our Swarovski scope. We took a taxi from the Dishui Lake Metro Line 16 station to Microforest 2 (30.926039, 121.970725). From there we walked back to the station, along the way exploring the reed beds, checking the shore, and scanning Dishui Lake.

Highlights: Falcated Duck 180, Garganey 8, Black-necked Grebe 4 (3 in nearly complete breeding plumage), Eurasian Spoonbill 8, Eurasian Bittern 1, Intermediate Egret 1, Kentish Plover 1, Barn Swallow 4, Reed Parrotbill 27, Naumann’s Thrush 1, Eastern Yellow Wagtail 5 tschutschensis, Richard’s Pipit 8, Buff-bellied Pipit 46, Chestnut-eared Bunting 5, Little Bunting 9 (1 singing), Pallas’s Reed Bunting 70.

In the reeds behind Microforest 2, amid the din of the digging machines that are destroying its home, a Reed Parrotbill was chirring loudly and making sounds reminiscent of babblers. I recorded four types of call:

chirring (00:03; 930 KB)

insistent (00:05; 1 MB)

plaintive (00:04; 958 KB)

joyful (00:20; 1.6 MB)

The transformation of the wetland continues apace. I took a photo showing a former marshy-reedy area, now drained, in which hundreds of a single species of coniferous tree are being planted. In this sector, sightings of Black-faced Spoonbill used to be regular. No more.

INCONGRUOUS: Sign from transformed wetland still stands, despite drainage and planting of hundreds of trees in area where Black-winged Stilt once foraged.
INCONGRUOUS: Sign from transformed wetland still stands, despite drainage and planting of hundreds of trees in area where Black-winged Stilt once foraged. (Craig Brelsford)

We skipped the Magic Parking Lot after a binocular check revealed about 100 cars parked around the lot. More and more locals are using our old birding area, especially on mild spring days such as Saturday.

On Fri. 25 March, Elaine and I viewed the Huangpu River from the Lujiazui side near Oriental Pearl Tower at a place called Binjiang Park (not to be confused with Binjiang Forest Park). Activity was little; we had just a handful of Vega Gull plus Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Egret, and a single Grey Heron as well as singing Chinese Blackbird, resident Light-vented Bulbul, and a leucopsis White Wagtail.

Elaine Du birding Huangpu River from Lujiazui side, 25 March 2016.
Elaine Du birding Huangpu River from Lujiazui side, 25 March 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We met a local bird photographer who said he goes to Lujiazui often. At times, this photographer said, “thousands” of gulls can be seen on the river around Lujiazui-Bund. He said he’d had just such a banner day last week, and he was surprised at the lack of gulls on Friday. This gentleman had photos of Black-tailed Gull as well as many Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus.

BIRD LIFE ON THE BUND: Vega Gull (top L, top R) will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Mallard (bottom L) sometimes appear in Huangpu River. At low tide, Little Egret congregate on thin strips of exposed mud. Photos taken 8 Dec. 2012 and retrieved from craigbrelsford.com archive.
BIRD LIFE ON THE BUND: Vega Gull (top L, top R) will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Mallard (bottom L) sometimes appear in Huangpu River. At low tide, Little Egret congregate on thin strips of exposed mud. Photos taken 8 Dec. 2012 and retrieved from craigbrelsford.com archive. (Craig Brelsford)

I get a romantic feeling birding the Bund and Lujiazui, one of the world’s best-known urban riverscapes. The romance is especially strong on a sunny day with the polluted air acting as a filter, reducing the sun’s rays to a soft, warm glow. Vega Gull appear; the Huangpu River is their stage, the famous skyscrapers their backdrop. The gulls will soon return to the wastes of Siberia, their northern home. Versatile creatures are they, specks of wild Asia in the heart of Shanghai.

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 25 March 2016 (7 species). Binjiang Park (Bīnjiāng Gōngyuán [滨江公园]; 31.235662, 121.497396), a small urban park on Huangpu River in Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Sunny; low 4° C, high 13° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 109 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:50, sunset 18:10. FRI 25 MAR 2016 16:10-17:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 6
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus 13
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 18
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 4
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 26 March 2016 (53 species)

Black-necked Grebe through spotting scope, Dishui Lake, 26 March 2016. Elaine and I still have not bought an adapter for taking pictures with my iPhone 6 through our Swarovski ATX-95. By holding my hand steady against the eyepiece, I am able to acquire record shots as good as this. The grebes were at least 100 m away, far beyond the reach of my Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens; in fact, with my camera and lens, I would have been hard-pressed to find the grebes, let alone produce a useful photo. The scope-phone combo, by contrast, allows us to peek into the grebes' world. In Panel 3 we can clearly see the remaining non-breeding plumage on the lower breast of the grebe. The red eye and yellow ear tufts are obvious. Black-necked Grebe is a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region.
Black-necked Grebe through spotting scope, Dishui Lake, 26 March 2016. Elaine and I still have not bought an adapter for taking pictures with my iPhone 6 through our Swarovski ATX-95. By holding my hand steady against the eyepiece, I am able to acquire record shots as good as this. The grebes were at least 100 m away, far beyond the reach of my Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens; in fact, with my camera and lens, I would have been hard-pressed to find the grebes, let alone produce a useful photo. The scope-phone combo, by contrast, allows us to peek into the grebes’ world. In Panel 3 we can clearly see the remaining non-breeding plumage on the lower breast of the grebe. The red eye and yellow ear tufts are obvious. Black-necked Grebe is a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region. (Craig Brelsford)

Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Shanghai, China. List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Sunny; low 5° C, high 15° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 6 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 134 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:49, sunset 18:10. SAT 26 MAR 2016 09:30-17:00. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Gadwall Anas strepera 3
Falcated Duck A. falcata 180
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 60
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 12
Garganey A. querquedula 8
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 32
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 4
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 8
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 5
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 48
Great Egret A. alba 5
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 1
Little Egret E. garzetta 26
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 220
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 9
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 8
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 7
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 6
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark A. arvensis/gulgula 9
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 27
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 24
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 1
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 30
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 70
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 5
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 5 tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba 24 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 8
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 46
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 5
Little Bunting E. pusilla 9
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 6
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 70

Mammals

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica 1

The author in a scrubby strip of land on the edge of a field at Nanhui, 26 March 2016. Little Bunting and Black-faced Bunting were in the scrub, Eurasian Skylark and Common Pheasant in the field. The area is just east of Dishui Lake. Photo by Elaine Du.
The author in a scrubby strip of land on the edge of a field at Nanhui, 26 March 2016. Little Bunting and Black-faced Bunting were in the scrub, Eurasian Skylark and Common Pheasant in the field. The area is just east of Dishui Lake. (Elaine Du)

Featured image: Where Black-faced Spoonbill once foraged, digging machines now crawl, transforming critical reed-bed and marshland habitat into an artificial forest. Looming in the background is the brand-new satellite city of Lingang. Nanhui, Shanghai, 26 March 2016.

Shanghai Early Spring Subway Birding

It’s spring in Shanghai! The equinox hasn’t arrived yet, but Chinese New Year has passed, and in the parks the flowers are blooming. In recent days in Shanghai, Elaine and I have noted Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage, seen Greater Scaup lingering at Dishui Lake, and found Red-throated Thrush amid lawn-loving Dusky Thrush at Century Park.

We reached all our destinations on foot or by subway, with two short taxi rides thrown in. Development continues in Shanghai, and it’s a double-edged sword; the ever-more efficient transportation system allows one to bird Nanhui cheaply, but development is also threatening Nanhui, as more and more reed beds fall to the bulldozer and backhoe.

On Mon. 7 March 2016, fresh from our big trip to Dulong Gorge in Yunnan, Elaine and I did our first birding of the season at Zhongshan Park. We ran into Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), a delightful local man who loves to photograph birds. He never tires of watching the Red-flanked Bluetail and Common Kingfisher that use the wooded area around the little central pond. When we heard the thin calls of Yellow-bellied Tit and discovered them on a bare branch across from where we were standing, Mr. Wang said we had brought him good luck. We heard Eurasian Siskin and Chinese Grosbeak in the trees above. Japanese Tit are singing, and Chinese Blackbird have begun to breed. Pale Thrush are a reminder of winter. Mr. Wang proudly showed us the Indochinese Yuhina he photographed recently at Yangpu Park, and he told us that he has seen Silver-throated Bushtit at Zhongshan.

On Fri. 11 March, Elaine and I made Elaine’s first visit ever and my first since Christmas Day 2011 to Shanghai Botanical Garden. We noted 23 species. 2 Collared Finchbill raised the old question of whether they are really wild, and 2 Yellow-browed Warbler may be a sign that the spring migration is beginning or may merely signify that Yellow-browed remains in Shanghai throughout the winter; Shanghai definitely teeters on the northern edge of this species’ winter range.

We searched in vain for White’s Thrush, and we found only 1 Grey-backed Thrush. Among our 9 Pale Thrush was one completely tamed by the photographers, whose latest innovation is to spear mealworms on a thin, stiff wire and induce the Daurian Redstart to hover to reach them. The redstart was uninjured by this tactic, which is an ethical step up from fastening mealworms with tiny, ingestible nails (as I have previously found Shanghai-area photographers doing). The photographers were chasing the Pale Thrush off, but so hooked was the thrush on the free protein that it refused to go away and made occasional dives at the baited wire. Elsewhere, we heard in this most urban of settings the same “tseep, tseep” contact call that Pale Thrush make in the much wilder country near Elaine’s hometown in Heilongjiang—Pale Thrush breeding ground.

A search for buntings in the nursery area turned up 4 Black-faced Bunting, and an old memory of finding small waders floating on garbage in the river was revived when we saw 5 Common Snipe on Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河). Just as four and a half years ago, these poor snipe were on mats formed by garbage that coalesces in the stagnant water. The snipe were only roosting there, of course, and presumably at dusk they jump onto the nearby muddy ground of the nursery to feed; in any case, the canal, completely walled in, offers zero mud on which to forage.

Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河), Shanghai Botanical Garden, 11 March 2016. Look for Common Snipe floating on mats of garbage in the narrow canal.
Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河), Shanghai Botanical Garden, 11 March 2016. Look for Common Snipe floating on mats of garbage in the narrow canal. (Craig Brelsford)

Shanghai Botanical Garden Gate 4 lies 700 m from Shilong Road Station, Metro Line 3. It is the first place I ever birded in China, two weeks after my arrival in Shanghai in October 2007. I relived with Elaine the thrilling moment when I beheld White’s Thrush for the first time; a moment that at that time and at my level of experience with Asian birds was just as breathtaking as finding Rufous-breasted Bush Robin last month in Dulong Gorge.

On Sat. 12 March, Elaine, Michael Grunwell, and I found 40 species at Nanhui and Huangpu Park on the Bund. We covered Nanhui and the Bund on foot and walked about 16 km. At Nanhui we met a worker in a digging machine carving ditches through which to drain large areas of reed bed, which he said when dry will be leveled and replanted with trees. The operation was well under way; water was running through the newly cut channels as fast as a mountain stream.

This distressing transformation is going to spell disaster for the Reed Parrotbill that are still fairly common at Nanhui. It will mean the end of habitat much relied on by Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Chinese Penduline Tit for winter habitat, it will take away breeding habitat for Oriental Reed Warbler, and it will add to the troubles faced by Oriental Stork and Black-faced Spoonbill, already under pressure at Nanhui.

Digging machines at work at Nanhui, 12 March 2016. A scheme is under way to replace dozens of acres of reed-bed habitat with tree plantations. The loss of the reed beds will be yet another disaster for the Reed Parrotbill, Brown-cheeked Rail, Pallas's Reed Bunting, and other species dependent on reed beds, just as the drying up of nearby ponds and marshes has been bad news for species such as Black-faced Spoonbill and Oriental Stork. It is amazing to me that the city planners fail to see the value of the Nanhui wetlands and reed beds. Everywhere there is this desire to change, to alter, to transform. Photos by Elaine Du.
Digging machines at work at Nanhui, 12 March 2016. A scheme is under way to replace dozens of acres of reed-bed habitat with tree plantations. The loss of the reed beds will be yet another disaster for the Reed Parrotbill, Brown-cheeked Rail, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, and other species dependent on reed beds, just as the drying up of nearby ponds and marshes has been bad news for species such as Black-faced Spoonbill and Oriental Stork. It is amazing to me that the city planners fail to see the value of the Nanhui wetlands and reed beds. Everywhere there is this desire to change, to alter, to transform. (Elaine Du)

I have to wonder, when these huge transformative schemes are discussed in the corridors of power, are environmental experts even present? Have the planners even heard of Reed Parrotbill? Has anyone ever shown them a picture of Black-faced Spoonbill?

The only good news is that the artificial forests that will replace the historical reed-bed habitat will attract migrating passerines, which could use some help as they make their way up and down the Chinese coast. But that was cold comfort for us. “Pale Thrush will tseep where Reed Parrotbill used to chirr,” I sighed to my companions.

The bird scene at Nanhui was more wintry than spring-y, but we found tschutschensis Eastern Yellow Wagtail assuming breeding plumage and at Dishui Lake found Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage. Dishui also yielded 7 Greater Scaup as well as Falcated Duck and Tufted Duck. Pied Avocet, Common Snipe, Dunlin, and Common Greenshank winter in the area; we saw no early evidence of spring migration among shorebirds.

Michael and Craig birding Wài Tān. Note the light, arms-free birding method of Senior Birder Michael Grunwell and the load being shouldered by Porter Craig Brelsford. The Swarovski scope is heavy, but when dealing with a birder of Michael's acumen, it's a burden cheerfully borne. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael and Craig birding Wài Tān. Note the light, arms-free birding method of Senior Birder Michael Grunwell and the load being shouldered by Porter Craig Brelsford. The Swarovski scope is heavy, but when dealing with a birder of Michael’s acumen, it’s a burden cheerfully borne. (Elaine Du)

Continuing our theme of birding-by-subway, we moved our party via Metro Line 16 and Line 2 to the Bund. There, Michael carefully picked through the ca. 150 Vega Gull (Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus) in a fruitless search for a rarity such as Kamchatka Gull or even Heuglin’s. Black-headed Gull were there.

The problem with gulling at Shanghai’s most famous landmark is that one is simultaneously examining some of the trickiest birds known to birding and dealing with dozens of onlookers interested in the laowai with the big lens. However, this most international of meeting points also sends interesting people your way, birders such as Shelley Rutkin, who noticed our activities and introduced herself. It’s a grand place to make friends, there on the Bund with the Pudong skyline as your backdrop.

Shelley told us that a birder reported Slaty-backed Gull on the Huangpu River. This birder was near Shangri-La Hotel on the Pudong side. I have yet to bird Huangpu River from the Pudong side and will be interested to hear how others fare there. Shelley also sent us an interesting image of Red-flanked Bluetail attacking a centipede. Thanks, Shelley!

Red-flanked Bluetail attacks centipede at Century Park, 13 March 2016. Subscriber Shelley Rutkin, who contributed this photo, said that passers-by scared off the bluetail before it could finish off the centipede.
Red-flanked Bluetail attacks centipede at Century Park, 13 March 2016. Subscriber Shelley Rutkin, who contributed this photo, said that passers-by scared off the bluetail before it could finish off the centipede. (Shelley Rutkin)

On Tues. 15 March Elaine and I noted the Red-throated Thrush at Century. Elaine spotted the thrush at sunset at the spacious lawn that on park maps is labeled “Amenity Grass” (疏林草坪区). The thrush was in the company of 60 Dusky Thrush and 1 Naumann’s Thrush that had descended onto the lawn to feed. Turdus ruficollis is scarce in Shanghai; Elaine and I note it two or three times each spring and autumn.

The thrushes were among 28 species we noted on our first trip to Century in 2016. Except for the Red-throated Thrush, the lineup was typical of the place and season. We noted a personal record high of 54 Pale Thrush, and large numbers of White-cheeked Starling and Red-billed Starling were assembling in trees around the very effective Bird Island in the middle of the park. Chinese Blackbird, Chinese Grosbeak, and Japanese Tit were singing.

When we arrived at 15:00, the park was crowded with photographers taking pictures of the cherry trees in bloom. Elaine and I know the park well and retreated to the quietest corners, where we found shy species such as Yellow-throated Bunting and Grey-backed Thrush. As the sun was setting, Elaine found White’s Thrush on the edge of the spacious lawn, which 90 minutes before had been full of people and which now, with all the visitors gone, was turning into a thrush feeding ground.

Featured image: With the Pudong skyscrapers as their backdrop, Craig Brelsford (L) and Michael Grunwell scan the Huangpu River for gulls. Bund, Shanghai, Sat. 12 March 2016. (Elaine Du)

Nanhui on Foot

Elaine and I birded Nanhui on foot, noting 43 species. I had my first-ever visual record of Brown-cheeked Rail in Shanghai, and at Dishui Lake we noted Common Goldeneye, 6 Greater Scaup, and 4 Black-necked Grebe. We had an unusual winter record of Eastern Yellow Wagtail (ssp. tschutschensis).

Common Goldeneye with Falcated Duck, Dishui Lake, 16 Jan. 2016. Photo created with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope mounted on Manfrotto head and carbon-fiber tripod.
Common Goldeneye with Falcated Duck, Dishui Lake, 16 Jan. 2016. Photo created with iPhone 6 and Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope mounted on Manfrotto head and carbon-fiber tripod.

The Brown-cheeked Rail was at 30.907690, 121.972372. Our discovery of the shy species came about because we were walking, not driving. On a sunny and unusually quiet day along Shijitang Road (the sea-wall road), Elaine and I were walking slowly, noting every sound and movement. Had we been driving, we might have missed the brief, piercing call of the rail.

The sound was coming from the reeds at the landward base of the sea wall. As it was time for lunch, and knowing how long rail vigils can take, Elaine and I sat down and ate our sandwiches in the warm sun, watching for movement in the reeds below and recording the calls the rail was intermittently making. Finally, the rail appeared atop the thin drainage canal connecting the wall to the marsh. I got a good enough look at the brownish flanks to affirm that the bird was not the extralimital Water Rail Rallus aquaticus but Brown-cheeked Rail R. indicus.

The valuable record was icing on the cake for us, because Elaine’s and my main goal today was not to acquire lifers but to get outside and exercise. If good birds appeared, we said, then fine, but nothing was more important to us than casting away the cooped-up feeling we get living in our apartment in the center city. We wanted sunshine, broad horizons, and the relatively clean air of Nanhui, and this time, for the first time, we wanted to bird Nanhui on foot.

We were able to do Nanhui without a car because of the recent opening of Metro Line 16, whose south terminus is at Dishui Lake. We needed only 90 minutes to go from our apartment near Zhongshan Park to Dishui Lake, taking Line 2 to Longyang Road and transferring to Line 16. After a quick taxi ride, by 08:15 we were at our favorite Dishui Lake viewpoint (30.908702, 121.945124). Having noted in addition to the aforementioned birds 350 Falcated Duck, 4 Tufted Duck, 1 of today’s 2 Richard’s Pipit, and surprisingly 0 Common Pochard, Elaine and I walked toward the coast. I had no camera with me, only my spotting scope and binoculars.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis, an unusual winter record for Shanghai.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis, an unusual winter record for Shanghai.

At the sea wall, we turned north, finding many Buff-bellied Pipit, White Wagtail, and the misplaced Eastern Yellow Wagtail. We ID’d our 2 Pied Harrier on the basis of the combination of brown back, greyish secondaries, and white rump of both birds, which were together. We heard two more rails but in even thicker cover than the first; we did not wait around for a visual to nail the ID, but we presume that they too were Brown-cheeked. Walking on an unpaved road into the reeds, we startled Common Snipe and Eurasian Teal. We watched Reed Parrotbill pry open the reed stems, making a crunchy sound.

One snipe, a loner, made only a quick, low flight before dropping stonelike and silently into the reeds. There was no “sneeze” at takeoff, unlike Common Snipe, and I saw no white trailing edge to the wing (which is not to say it was not there). The snipe appeared smaller than Common. Because of the angle of the snipe’s head as it dropped, I could not see the bill. Was it Jack Snipe? I do not know, but I urge local birders not to chalk up every snipe they see to Common but to take a good, hard look.

We u-turned and walked south, reaching the bus stop behind the Magic Parking Lot at the Holiday Inn. It was 15:20 and we had walked 17 km. We took the bus back to the Dishui Lake Metro Station. The subway ride back to Zhongshan Park was just as smooth as the ride out.

Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du sleeping on Line 16. It's a long ride out to Dishui Lake, but birders are virtually guaranteed a seat on Line 16. That's because the stations one uses to access and exit Line 16 (Dishui Lake and Longyang Road) are the terminuses of Line 16. Note here that, even though I was fast asleep, I nonetheless retained the presence of mind to photographically record this moment for you.
Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du sleeping on Line 16. It’s a long ride out to Dishui Lake, but birders are virtually guaranteed a seat on Line 16. That’s because the stations one uses to access and exit Line 16 (Dishui Lake and Longyang Road) are the terminuses of Line 16.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 16 Jan. 2016 (43 species). Around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]), Shanghai, China (30.920507, 121.973159). List includes birds found at Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Thick morning haze then mostly sunny skies; low 0°C, high 10°C. Visibility 0-10 km. Wind E 6 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 189 (Shanghai). Sunrise 06:53, sunset 17:15. SAT 16 JAN 2016 08:15-15:10. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 350
Gadwall A. strepera 9
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 50
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 50
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 70
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 4
Greater Scaup A. marila 6
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 14
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 30
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 4
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 15
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 25
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos 2
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail R. indicus/R. aquaticus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 150
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 30
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 17
snipe sp. 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 8
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 12
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 9
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 5
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 12
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 8
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 1 tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba 18 (17 leucopsis, 1 ocularis)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Buff-Bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 16
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 40

Featured image: Craig Brelsford viewing Brown-cheeked Rail in a drainage ditch at Nanhui, Shanghai, China, Sat. 16 Jan. 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.

A Reliable Spot for Brown-cheeked Rail

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 Rail Rallus 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.

Mute Swan is a well-known ornamental bird, found in parks throughout Western Europe and North America. Wild Mute Swan are less commonly seen, and in the Shanghai region, Cygnus olor is a very scarce winter visitor. This sub-adult has a dull pink bill, unlike the deep orange-red bill of an adult. Dongtai, 10 Jan.
Mute Swan is a well-known ornamental bird, found in parks throughout Western Europe and North America. Wild Mute Swan are less commonly seen, and in the Shanghai region, Cygnus olor is a very scarce winter visitor. This sub-adult has a dull pink bill, unlike the deep orange-red bill of an adult. Dongtai, 10 Jan. (Craig Brelsford)

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.

Unusual winter sighting of Chinese Pond Heron, Yangkou, 10 Jan. 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.
Unusual winter sighting of Chinese Pond Heron, Yangkou, 10 Jan. 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.

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.

We had little time for photography, but this cooperative Rustic Bunting offered me an opportunity too good to pass up. It is easy to distinguish a faded winter Rustic (as here) from the smarter breeding Rustic; it is harder to age and sex them.
We had little time for photography, but this cooperative Rustic Bunting offered me an opportunity too good to pass up. It is easy to distinguish a faded winter Rustic (as here) from the smarter breeding Rustic; it is harder to age and sex them. (Craig Brelsford)

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.

Elaine Du cheerfully hauls the spotting scope back to the car. The youngest member of the team, Elaine has an obvious enthusiasm for birding, is becoming handy with the telescope, and keeps accurate records.
Elaine Du cheerfully hauls the spotting scope back to the car. The youngest member of the team, Elaine has an obvious enthusiasm for birding, is becoming handy with the telescope, and keeps accurate records. (Craig Brelsford)
Smew, Yancheng, 9 Jan. 2016.
Smew, Yancheng, 9 Jan. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Green Sandpiper, Yangkou, 10 Jan. 2016.
Green Sandpiper, Yangkou, 10 Jan. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater Scaup, Dongtai, 10 Jan. 2016.
Greater Scaup, Dongtai, 10 Jan. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: L-R: Stephan Popp, Michael Grunwell, & Elaine Du view 1250 Common Merganser near Crane Paradise, Yancheng, Jiangsu, 9 January 2016.