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)