White-bellied Green Pigeon! (or, How We Slogged Our Way through the Shanghai Smog and Picked Up a Lifer)

Fresh from our trip to Guangxi, Elaine and I on Saturday noted 57 species at Lesser Yangshan and Nanhui. The highlight was White-bellied Green Pigeon at Nanhui. Nanhui also produced 3 Greater Scaup, an impressive 440 Tufted Duck and 470 Kentish Plover, and a single Reed Parrotbill. On Lesser Yangshan, Brown-eared Bulbul was noted once again, and I flushed 2 Eurasian Woodcock.

After the smoggiest, most pollution-filled beginning to a birding day I had ever seen, our respectable showing was a surprise to Elaine and our partners Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp. Starting in Puxi at 06:15, we crawled through thick haze, with visibility sometimes reduced to less than 50 meters. Many birders would have reasonably turned back, but we pressed on, cheerfully repeating the two mantras of birding: (1) you never know and (2) wait. Finally, driving across Donghai Bridge, after more than two hours in Stephan and Xueping’s Passat, we saw a hint of blue sky over Lesser Yangshan Island. Free at last!

In the animal world, the survivors are the athletes and the geniuses. This Richard's Pipit is in top condition. It has caught a katydid, and nicely dividing its attention between prey and predator, the bird assesses the danger, bashes its large prey once more, and safely makes off with the stunned insect.
In the animal world, the survivors are the athletes and the geniuses. This Richard’s Pipit is in top condition. It has caught a katydid, and nicely dividing its attention between prey and predator, the bird assesses the danger, bashes its large prey once more, and safely makes off with the stunned insect.

At that point, just breathing deeply was a bonus; we could have seen not a single bird and felt the trip to the island worthwhile. As it was, however, we generated interesting records such as the bulbul, the woodcocks, and Yellow-bellied Tit, all found in Garbage Dump Gully. Rustic Bunting was on the coastal plain, and among the common winter visitors were 14 Daurian Redstart, 2 Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, and 3 Pale Thrush.

Looking back toward the mainland, we noticed that more and more of Donghai Bridge was becoming visible. We decided to chance it and return to Nanhui. Visibility had improved here, too, and at Dishui Lake, our first stop, we gazed hundreds of meters across the water. Using the spotting scopes, Elaine and Xueping picked through the birds. The search for Horned Grebe was fruitless, but 5 Black-necked Grebe were there, and 330 Falcated Duck, 15 Eurasian Wigeon, and 80 Great Crested Grebe were present in more or less their earlier proportions. In the first big pond north of the Magic Parking Lot, we found the large flock of Kentish Plover–surprising, but not unprecedented, as we had counted a mega-flock of 800 on 28 Nov.

Sleeping White-bellied Green Pigeon, Nanhui. After Stephan Popp and I got this image, we backed away slowly, so as not to disturb the tired migrant.
Sleeping White-bellied Green Pigeon, Nanhui. After Stephan Popp and I got this image, we backed away slowly, so as not to disturb the tired migrant.

We found the White-bellied Green Pigeon at Microforest 4. In the Shanghai region, I had last noted Treron sieboldii on 24 Nov. 2012 on Lesser Yangshan. The beautiful pigeon was a lifer for everyone but me and set off a series of high-fives, made even more meaningful by the inauspicious beginning of our day. White-bellied Green Pigeon became the 259th species Elaine and I have noted in the Shanghai region since 11 Sept.

Development seems to be accelerating at Nanhui. Near the empty blue-roofed building, backhoes are moving great quantities of earth, and Microforest 8 has been destroyed. The line of reeds at the inner base of the sea wall has been mowed down.

Eastern Buzzard, Nanhui. Note the compact build, black carpal patches on underwings, black tips to primaries, and head that is paler than upperparts. Buteo japonicus is a common winter visitor to Shanghai.
Eastern Buzzard, Nanhui. Note the compact build, black carpal patches on underwings, black tips to primaries, and head that is paler than upperparts. Buteo japonicus is a common winter visitor to Shanghai.

List 1 of 2 for SAT 26 DEC 2015 (23 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). Extremely smoggy in morning, clearing by midday. Visibility 0-10 km. Sunrise 06:46, sunset 16:53. Temp. 6°-12°C. 08:00-10:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.

Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 3
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 8
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 14
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 8
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 5
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 12
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 4
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 1
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 6
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1

List 2 of 2 for SAT 26 DEC 2015 (45 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 Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782), Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), the empty blue-roofed building & nearby microforests (30.961368, 121.952136), and Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Extremely smoggy in morning, clearing by midday. Visibility 0-10 km. Sunrise 06:46, sunset 16:53. Temp. 6°-12°C. 11:30-16:20. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Stephan Popp, & Xueping Popp.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 330
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 15
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 8
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 20
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 60
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 440
Greater Scaup A. marila 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 20
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 80
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 5
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 10
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 120
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 22
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 250
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 470
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 12
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 4
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
White-bellied Green Pigeon Treron sieboldii 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 8
Japanese Tit Parus minor 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 15
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 150
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 12 (8 leucopsis, 4 ocluaris)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 15
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 5

Featured image: White-bellied Green Pigeon Treron sieboldii, Nanhui, Shanghai, 26 Dec. 2015.

Horned Grebe in Shanghai!

Since returning in September from our two-month Amur River Basin trip, Elaine and I have been birding almost exclusively around Shanghai. On 11 Sept. we started “Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16.” Through last Sunday we have noted 252 species for that report. Sunday brought us two additions to the list: Sand Martin and Slavonian Grebe (IOC calls it Horned Grebe). The 3 Horned Grebe were among an impressive thousand or so birds on Dishui Lake and were joined by 13 Black-necked Grebe, 9 Greater Scaup, and 240 Falcated Duck. In all we noted 58 species on Sunday. On Saturday at Hengsha with Michael Grunwell, rain stunted our efforts a bit, but we managed to note 55 species.

Japanese Thrush, Dishui Lake, Sunday. Turus cardis is a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is most commonly seen in October. This record was our latest ever in Shanghai for the species. On a wet, gloomy morning, the thrush was foraging on the grassy medial strip.
Japanese Thrush, Dishui Lake, Sunday. Turus cardis is a passage migrant in the Shanghai area and is most commonly seen in October. This record was our latest ever in Shanghai for the species. On a wet, gloomy morning, the thrush was foraging on the grassy medial strip.

On the road ringing Dishui Lake, Elaine and I got our latest-ever Shanghai record of Japanese Thrush. 25 Eastern Yellow Wagtail ssp. taivana were present on the muddy areas fringing the reed beds. Last year, taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai, an unexpectedly northern record; I and I hope others will be looking for more taivana winter records in the coming months. The Sand Martin were among 50 late Barn Swallow and were flying over the lake behind the Holiday Inn at Nanhui. Among our other Nanhui notables were 170 Tufted Duck on Dishui Lake, 90 Eurasian Spoonbill (no Black-faced Spoonbill noted), 2 Western Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, and 5 Rustic Bunting.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana, Nanhui, Sunday. Look for taivana along the muddy fringes of the reed beds and ponds. Last year taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis taivana, Nanhui, Sunday. Look for taivana along the muddy fringes of the reed beds and ponds. Last year taivana was present throughout the winter in Shanghai.

At Nanhui, a long wait deep in the reed beds produced no Water Rail/Brown-cheeked Rail, but on Hengsha I got a very quick auditory record. Michael and I had taken a long walk on an unpaved road through excellent reedy habitat and were enjoying a sustained view of a flock of Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Suddenly, the rail cried out, but was not heard again.

Also at that spot, a Jack Snipe blew its cover, remaining visible in flight long enough to reveal its short bill. We viewed Merlin and heard three flocks of Reed Parrotbill.

This Sand Martin was associating with Barn Swallow at Nanhui.
This Sand Martin was associating with Barn Swallow at Nanhui.

Earlier, during a talk with some local crabbers, we were told that beginning next year it’s game over for the reclaimed area at Hengsha–development of the container port will begin. Michael, who had never been to Hengsha before, was much impressed with the site, and concurred with my view that it is one of the top places to bird in Shanghai. The view of some 6000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond only solidified Michael’s opinion. Fearing the worst for Hengsha, we looked longingly and hopefully across the Yangtze to the protected Jiuduansha islands, barely visible.

More views of Horned Grebe. Podiceps auritus has a flatter head than Black-necked Grebe, the peak of the head being well behind the eye. In winter plumage, the black cap is neater than that of Black-necked Grebe, with no bulge on the cheek as with Podiceps nigricollis. Note the whitish spot on the lores here. This individual is an adult.
More views of Horned Grebe. Podiceps auritus has a flatter head than Black-necked Grebe, the peak of the head being well behind the eye. In winter plumage, the black cap is neater than that of Black-necked Grebe, with no bulge on the cheek as with Podiceps nigricollis. Note the whitish spot on the lores here. This individual is an adult.

Rain turned to frozen rain, and we drove slowly on the sea-wall road along the eastern and northern edges of Hengsha. Some salt-marsh habitat remains between the sea wall and the tide line, and there we found 3 Ruddy Shelduck, a welcome bit of color amid the bleakness. Wooded areas on the inland side of the wall produced White’s Thrush and Yellow-throated Bunting.

Dishui Lake should be a part of anyone’s winter Nanhui itinerary. As it’s just a few hundred meters from Line 16 Dishui Lake station, even birders without a car can enjoy a long walk around the circular pond.

Rustic Bunting, Nanhui, Sunday.
Rustic Bunting, Nanhui, Sunday.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 5 Dec. 2015 (54 species)

Hengsha Island (Héngshā Dǎo [横沙岛]), a small alluvial island at mouth of Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. S gate to birding area at 31.297333, 121.859434. Excellent view of large pond at 31.331804, 121.883224. Cloudy with drizzle turning to steady light rain. Winds SW 3 km/h. Visibility 10 km. Sunrise 06:38, sunset 16:51. High 7°C. SAT 05 DEC 2015 07:20-14:00.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 3
Falcated Duck Anas falcata ca. 2000
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 1
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 1
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 30
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 4
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 10
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret A. alba 8
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 2
Little Egret E. garzetta 30
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 5
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/R. aquaticus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 20
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 2500
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 30
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 10
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 18
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 30
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 25
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 4
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 3
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 30
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 20
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 10
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 15
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 5
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 5
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 20
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 6
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

A chipper Elaine Du pauses while searching for Water Rail at Nanhui, Sun. 6 Dec. 2015.
A chipper Elaine Du pauses while searching for Water Rail at Nanhui, Sun. 6 Dec. 2015.

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 6 Dec. 2015 (58 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 Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782), Magic GPS Point (30.880540, 121.964572), the empty blue-roofed building & nearby microforests (30.961368, 121.952136), and Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Mostly cloudy, becoming partly cloudy. Visibility 0-5 km. Sunrise 06:40, sunset 16:51. Low 4°C, high 10°C. SUN 06 DEC 2015 07:30-16:40.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 240
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 40
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha ca. 50
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 30
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 170
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 9
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 70
Horned Grebe P. auritus 3
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 13
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 90
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 40
Great Egret A. alba 16
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 30
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 2
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 220
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 13
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 10
Dunlin Calidris alpina 25
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 5
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 15
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 2
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 50
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 5
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 7
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 2
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 7
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 12
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 16
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 25 taivana
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 56
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 7
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 6
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 5
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 2
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 5
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 25

Featured image: Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus, Dishui Lake, Shanghai, China, 6 Dec. 2015.

98 Species at Top Shanghai Sites

On 28-29 Nov., Elaine and I noted 98 species at three of the Shanghai region’s top sites: Lesser Yangshan Island, Nanhui, and Hengsha Island. On Hengsha Main Pond we noted 3200 Falcated Duck. We noted Water/Brown-cheeked Rail at Nanhui and at Hengsha, and among the hundreds of ducks at Dishui Lake were 10 Greater Scaup as well as 15 Black-necked Grebe. A beautiful jack Merlin was grounded by rain on Hengsha, and another on Nanhui scared up a cloud of rather late Barn Swallow. Verditer Flycatcher resorted to the reeds in the treeless reclaimed area on Hengsha, and on Lesser Yangshan we saw juvenile Lesser Coucal. That tiny island was characteristically thrushy, with Red-throated Thrush and Naumman’s Thrush appearing alongside Dusky Thrush, Pale Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Chinese Blackbird, the latter not commonly seen on Lesser Yangshan.

Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman's Thrush.
Red-throated Thrush, Lesser Yangshan, 28 Nov. 2015. This first-winter male came from Siberia. Other Siberian-breeding thrushes present on Lesser Yangshan were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Naumman’s Thrush. (Craig Brelsford)

The 9000 birds on Hengsha Main Pond were overwhelmingly of just three species: Falcated Duck, Gadwall, and Eurasian Coot, with sprinklings of Mandarin Duck, Common Shelduck, Common Pochard, and Black-necked Grebe. I had never seen so many birds in a single place in Shanghai Shi. The reclaimed area on which the pond sits is under no environmental protection; the area is slated to be turned into a giant container port.

Hengsha Main Pond is in the northwest quadrant of the reclaimed area, hard by the fenced border with Hengsha Island proper. We viewed the pond from the perimeter road, the other side of which contains farms and trees. While scanning and counting, we noted Hair-crested Drongo and Dusky Warbler. Earlier, in the reclaimed area we once again noted Chinese Grey Shrike and a single Water Pipit. We hadn’t seen Intermediate Egret in a while. Robin-like Red-flanked Bluetail were absent from the treeless reclaimed area, but chat-like Daurian Redstart turned into reed-bed specialists; we noted 18.

Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited.
Amid steady rain on Hengsha, this Merlin watched and waited. (Craig Brelsford)

On Saturday Elaine and I were joined by veteran English birder Michael Grunwell. Lesser Yangshan was its typical late-November self, serving up its usual fare of Daurian Redstart, less common delicacies such as Yellow-bellied Tit, and a main course of buntings, this time Meadow Bunting, Little Bunting, Yellow-throated Bunting, and Black-faced Bunting.

The diversity of ducks on Dishui Lake was a welcome surprise. Common Shelduck appeared here as well, and we sifted through the Tufted Duck to find the Greater Scaup. The Mandarin Duck were seen on a pond inside the sea wall and attracted some photographers, who paid little attention to the nearby flock of 800 Kentish Plover.

Mandarin Duck, Nanhui.
Mandarin Duck, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

At Nanhui as well as at Hengsha, we selected places likely to hold Water Rail or Brown-cheeked Rail. There, we played back recordings of Rallus aquaticus. On both occasions, we got a loud call from someplace deep within the reeds, but no appearance. While waiting at Nanhui, we noted a flock of Reed Parrotbill.

We spent Saturday night at Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿; +86 135-0185-1814 and +86 150-2164-5467). For 120 yuan we got a simple double room with bathroom down the hall. Meals are usually available there, but we arrived too late. We had freeze-dried meals with us; they once again proved to be a big asset, allowing us to eat a full meal after a long day birding.

By positioning ourselves on Hengsha the night before we birded, we saved ourselves our typical early wake-up in the city and a dash to Changxing Island for the first ferry.

The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. Look for a bend in the road, a gap in the fence, and a broken causeway below. Photo by Elaine Du.
The author at the Hengsha Main Pond viewpoint. The coordinates of this point are 31.331804, 121.883224. (Elaine Du)
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui.
Reed Parrotbill in characteristic pose and reedy habitat, Nanhui, 28 Nov. 2015. The species is still common wherever large beds of reeds are spared from the backhoe and bulldozer. There are a few such good spots at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye.
Intermediate Egret, Hengsha, 29 Nov. 2015. Egretta intermedia is noticeably larger than Eastern Cattle Egret and in winter has a dark-tipped orange bill. The head is more rounded than in Great Egret. Note the gape line on this specimen: It ends below the eye, whereas in Great Egret the gape line extends behind the eye. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: While Craig Brelsford consults Collins Bird Guide, Michael Grunwell uses Craig’s Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope to view Greater Scaup. Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 28 Nov. 2015. (Elaine Du)

Brown-cheeked Rail at Yangkou

On Sun. 15 Nov. 2015, Elaine and I found Brown-cheeked Rail and Black-winged Kite at Yangkou and at Chongming saw 23 Hooded Crane and Chinese Grey Shrike. We added Scaly-breasted Munia to our fall-winter list.

I found the rail in the reed beds near Haiyin Temple. On 8 May 2010, I found a Brown-cheeked Rail at the same site. Today I was hoping to see Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, a bird known to overwinter in Yancheng up the coast. After 30 minutes, a Brown-cheeked appeared at the edge of the reeds, right under a small flock of Reed Parrotbill.

Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus, Yangkou, 15 Nov. 2015. Formerly considered conspecific with Water Rail R. aquaticus, Brown-cheeked Rail is a poorly understood species.
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus, Yangkou, 15 Nov. 2015. Formerly considered conspecific with Water Rail R. aquaticus, Brown-cheeked Rail is a poorly understood species.

Much is not known about the movements and distribution of Brown-cheeked Rail. The spot at Yangkou may be worth checking regularly for this species.

At Yangkou the great rush of passage migrants has slowed, and the area is settling into its winter phase. The forest at Haiyin Temple is quiet, and the trees are shedding leaves.

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 15 Nov. 2015 (43 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), unpaved road N of Haiyin Temple (32.570807, 121.015638), reed beds near Haiyin Temple (32.557387, 121.037381), & microforest near Haiyin Temple (32.558400, 121.038250). Thick morning haze giving way to mostly sunny skies; high 14°C. Wind ENE 3 km/h. Sunrise 06:24, sunset 16:57. SUN 15 NOV 2015 08:15-11:30.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 8
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 65
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 5
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 1
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 100
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 3
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 8
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 17
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 8
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 20
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 8
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus 5
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 7
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 10
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 7
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 4
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 14
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 4
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 22
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 6
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 4
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 6
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 7

Juvenile Scaly-breasted Munia browsing seed heads on Chongming Island, Shanghai, 15 Nov. 2015.
Juvenile Scaly-breasted Munia browsing seed heads on Chongming Island, Shanghai, 15 Nov. 2015.

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 15 Nov. 2015 (24 species)

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]), Chongming Island, Shanghai, China (31.510109, 121.961955). Thick morning haze giving way to mostly sunny skies; high 14°C. Wind ENE 3 km/h. Sunrise 06:24, sunset 16:57. SUN 15 NOV 2015 16:00-17:05.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha ca. 500
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 6
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 13
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Great Egret A. alba 17
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 22
Hooded Crane Grus monacha 23
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 6
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 6
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus sphenocercus 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 10
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 5
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata 2
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 3
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 1

Featured image: Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 15 Nov. 2015.

70 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

On Sat. 7 Nov. 2015 our birding Dream Team noted 70 species. Nanhui once again outshone Lesser Yangshan, yielding 12 Black-faced Spoonbill and Dalmatian Pelican. Japanese Thrush were particularly abundant, with a count of 37. A juvenile Rook, uncommon in Shanghai, flew by briefly, and we noted 3 Reed Parrotbill.

At Nanhui we noted 37 Japanese Thrush, a high for me at that location. I paid particular attention to the females, shown here, as they are even more shy than the males.
At Nanhui we noted 37 Japanese Thrush, a high for me at that location. I paid particular attention to the females, shown here, as they are even more shy than the males. (Craig Brelsford)

The unseasonably warm day began on Lesser Yangshan. We saw two sizable flocks of Brambling, noted Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Black Kite, and found singing Meadow Bunting, territorial even in November.

At the Magic Parking Lot in Nanhui, we waited with the photographers for a smart male Siberian Rubythroat before driving down to the empty, blue-roofed building. The scrubby fields near the building produced 7 Japanese Quail as well as Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier, the Rook, and several of the Japanese Thrush. In the nearby microforests, Japanese Thrush and Eyebrowed Thrush were massing in big flocks, underscoring the importance of those woodsy oases amid the reeds and rice fields that cover most of the area.

Exhausted from the heat, we sat down in Microforest 1 to rest. This was a good decision, as the quiet sitting allowed shyer birds to appear from the reeds just behind the trees. Among these were Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler and the Reed Parrotbills. A Brambling loitered on the forest floor, grooming itself. A Siskin, too hungry to care about us, picked at a seed head just meters away. Red-flanked Bluetail and Daurian Redstart foraged right at our feet.

At the Magic GPS Point, a Pale Thrush flew into a window at the garishly large, completely empty building next to the Holiday Inn. I picked up the unconscious bird, an adult male. The thrush had flown hundreds of kilometers to get to Nanhui, but it was exquisite, a beautiful specimen, flawless and clean. I stroked the incredibly soft, smooth feathers, marveling at their beauty. We snapped pictures of the outer tail feathers showing the white tip, important for ID’ing Pale Thrushes in flight. We set it down in a flower bed next to the rotten carcass of a Black-capped Kingfisher that doubtlessly had met its end by flying into the same huge windows. We feared the thrush was dead, but to our surprise, when we came back a while later, the thrush had disappeared. Few Chinese pick up dead birds, and I’ve never seen cats in the area, so it is highly possible that the thrush survived the collision and went on its way.

Holding this Pale Thrush, feeling its body heat, admiring its pristine plumage, flawless despite the long flight from northeast Asia–what a moving experience. We thought we had lost this adult male, but when we returned later and saw no bird, we were filled with hope.
Holding this Pale Thrush, feeling its body heat, admiring its pristine plumage, flawless despite the long flight from northeast Asia–what a moving experience. We thought we had lost this adult male, but when we returned later and saw no bird, we were filled with hope. (Craig Brelsford)

The Rook, a scarce winter visitor in the Shanghai region, required some analysis; it was a good thing I got photos. Looking at the photos on my MacBook, I had the following thought process: (1) Bill, forehead much unlike Large-billed. (2) Is our bird therefore Carrion Crow or juvenile Rook? (3) Mark Brazil (Birds of East Asia) has Rook as a winter visitor to Shanghai region but has Carrion Crow no further S than Hebei. Elaine and I also have experience with Rook in this region; we noted 2 Rook on Lesser Yangshan on 20 Sept. 2014. We have never noted Carrion Crow in the region. (4) My photos clearly show a crow with a straight culmen, not decurved like that of Carrion–a straight culmen being a classic feature of Rook.

This bird has a culmen less decurved than that of Carrion Crow, leading me to believe that it is a juvenile Rook.
This bird has a culmen less decurved than that of Carrion Crow, leading me to believe that it is a juvenile Rook. (Craig Brelsford)

The all-black crows are uncommon in Shanghai. Whenever birders see an all-black crow in this area, we should take it seriously and try hard for an ID. Many birders find crows boring, but Rook in Shanghai is one of the most interesting records we had that day.

The Dream Team consists of veteran birder Michael Grunwell, husband-and-wife team Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, Elaine, and me. With Michael’s knowledge and Xueping and Elaine’s diligence, and with Stephan and me taking care of the record shots, the Dream Team almost always nails the ID.

Eyebrowed Thrush breeds from central Siberia to Kamchatka and winters from south China to Indonesia. These graceful birds have already come a long way, and they still have far to go.
Eyebrowed Thrush breeds from central Siberia to Kamchatka and winters from south China to Indonesia. These graceful birds have already come a long way, and they still have far to go. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Stephan Popp using Craig’s spotting scope, Elaine Du in background. Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 7 November 2015. (Craig Brelsford)