I made a mistake the other day. On the Shanghai Birding WeChat group, 153 members strong, I shared the location of a pair of breeding birds. I’m talking about the Greater Painted-snipe at Cape Nanhui in Pudong.
At first, I thought the painted-snipes were vagrants, perhaps on a post-breeding dispersal. Then I noticed that one of the painted-snipes was male, the other female.
I didn’t see fledglings or a nest. Even so, I should have known that I was viewing a pair that was probably breeding.
In the spirit of Cooperative Birding that is the core of shanghaibirding.com, I shared the location on the WeChat group, still thinking incorrectly that the painted-snipes were vagrants and not breeders.
Within seconds, the location was known to anyone using the Shanghai Birding WeChat group.
Then other Shanghai Birding members offered very persuasive evidence that the painted-snipes at Nanhui are indeed breeding.
And now, more and more onlookers apparently are converging on the nest site.
A few people getting a quick look are one thing. Many people lingering for a long time are another thing.
I fear a result such as occurred this past spring with the breeding Reed Parrotbill at Nanhui. Then, pressure from photographers likely led to the failure of a nest.
We Shanghai birders must work to prevent this!
The Nanhui painted-snipes are breeding in a trash-strewn canal—very sub-optimal.
In addition, they may be dealing with big, scary creatures (us) staring at them for hours at a time.
That’s extremely sub-optimal.
When I viewed the painted-snipes, I saw that they were acutely aware of my presence and were almost certainly modifying their behavior as a result of my presence.
That’s why my friends and I got out of there quick.
I like taking photos, but I contented myself with some record shots and got out of there.
I suggest others do the same. Let’s be conservationists first and artists second.
And by all means, let us keep revealing the locations of interesting birds.
But remember, it is one thing to reveal the location of a migrating bird that likely will be gone in a few minutes or hours. In the spirit of Cooperative Birding, we owe it to our fellow birders to reveal those locations so that they too can enjoy the rare passage migrant.
It’s quite another thing to reveal the location of the nest of a rare bird.
A nesting bird is a sitting duck (in some cases literally). A nesting bird can hardly be more vulnerable.
So I’m sorry I revealed the nest site of the painted-snipes.
But that’s water under the bridge. The key now is to control the situation at the nest site.
Please, police yourself first. Don’t linger too long. Be a conservationist.
If you see anyone getting out of hand, then please speak up. Again, be a conservationist.
Let’s love the Nanhui painted-snipes from a distance and help them successfully raise their baby.
Dongling is only 185 km north of People’s Square in Shanghai, closer than the declining old hot spot of Yangkou (“Rudong”) and the Dongtai coastal areas. Through a steady rain 12 Aug., Bob and I found high-tide roosts containing seas of Great Knot plus a single lonely Spoon-billed Sandpiper in complete winter plumage.
Seeing so many Great Knot was extremely heartening. In stark contrast, however, was endangeredFar Eastern Curlew, of which only 5 were noted. Unlike near-threatenedEurasian Curlew (130), which though not abundant at Dongling numbered in the thousands at coastal Dongtai, Far Eastern Curlew were abundant nowhere.
On 11 Aug. Bob and I birded the reclaimed area of eastern Hengsha Island. The place was a bustle of activity, even at 5:15 in the morning, with 18-wheelers and dump trucks rumbling by. Security was tight. Guards were stationed at every intersection and in roving vans, one of which stopped us. We told them our purpose was birding; they told us to leave.
Before getting kicked out, Bob and I enjoyed one of my best moments ever with near-threatenedReed Parrotbill. A mega-flock of about 50 birds, much larger than the flocks one sees in the smaller, and ever-shrinking, reedy areas at Cape Nanhui, was making a loud noise during a morning feed. The flock contained juveniles and adults and proved that, provided it has habitat in which to flourish, Reed Parrotbill is a common, even dominant, reed-bed specialist.
With the help of local Chinese birders, Bob and I found a pair of Greater Painted-snipe in a thickly vegetated, trash-strewn canal. The shy birds were aware of our presence and nervous, but they held their ground. That behavior, in combination with a photo another Chinese birder took suggesting that the male is brooding, persuaded us that the pair has a nest. We moved quickly away and did not return.
Nordmann’s GreenshankTringa guttifer
Footage I got 11 Aug. at Dongtai figures prominently in this video I made comparing Nordmann’s Greenshank to Common Greenshank.
The video below records one of my closest encounters ever with “Swintail” Snipe. I found this individual 14 Aug. at the sod farm (31.103100, 121.829300) south of Pudong International Airport.
The video shows some of the characters distinguishing this species pair from Common Snipe. (The two species themselves are, except in extraordinary circumstances, indistinguishable from one another.)
As the autumn migration season progresses, the sod farm bears checking; on 3 Sept. 2016 at the farm, my partners and I had a rare Shanghai record of Common Ringed Plover.
The video of the snipe as well as the other two videos embedded into this post were made with my combination of iPhone 6 plus PhoneSkope adapter plus Swarovski ATX-95. This powerful combination allows the videographer to shoot usable video from a great distance, allowing even a shy snipe to act naturally. (I never got closer than 40 m to the snipe.)
Amur Paradise FlycatcherTerpsiphone incei
It was an exciting moment 10 Aug. when Amur Paradise Flycatcher appeared in Microforest 1 (30.923889, 121.971635). In the photo above, note the indistinct border between the bluish hood and white belly and the two-tone coloration of the hood–darker blue head, lighter blue breast. In Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, the hood tends to be uniformly colored and the border between the hood and white breast more distinct.
With this year’s fall migration season getting into full swing, paradise flycatchers are going to be moving through Shanghai, and you may wish to improve your skills. For more on separating Amur Paradise Flycatcher from Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, see my post from 2016, “ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.”
Adults and some juveniles are now moving through Shanghai. In a few weeks, nearly all adult Cuculus cuckoos will be gone, and we will be left with the juveniles. Cuckoos do not sing in autumn, and song of course is by far the best way of distinguishing among the Cuculus cuckoos of our region. I therefore almost invariably mark these silent birds “Cuculus sp.”
Let us say I assigned these silent cuckoos to Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Perhaps they were the size of a sparrowhawk (ruling out thrush-sized Lesser Cuckoo C. poliocephalus), and perhaps they even had yellow irides (ruling out dark-eyed Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus and providing yet more evidence against dark-eyed Lesser Cuckoo).
Even if my cuckoos passed these tests, unless they were singing the classic song (virtually unheard this time of year), how could I justify ID-ing them as Common? It is, of course, likely that some of them are Common, but how can one be sure that any given silent Cuculus cuckoo one is seeing is Common?
I refrain from making speculative species assignments. I refrain because we still do not know enough about the migration patterns in Shanghai of Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus and Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus.
Like so many of the woodland passerines that pass through Shanghai on migration, Oriental Cuckoo breeds in northeastern China. Like those woodland passerines, Oriental Cuckoo also may pass through Shanghai on migration. Oriental, of course, is very similar to Common, the two species having so many overlapping characters that a firm ID of non-photographed, non-singing birds is all but impossible; and Himalayan, which theoretically may be present in or near our region, is even more similar to Oriental (“virtually identical”—Mark Brazil, Birds of East Asia, p. 256).
In Shanghai it may be tempting to assign silent Cuculus cuckoos, particularly yellow-eyed adults, to Common Cuckoo. Before I ever started doing that, though, I would want to know more about Oriental Cuckoo and Himalayan Cuckoo in the Shanghai region. Maybe future studies, using captured cuckoos whose DNA has been analyzed, will reveal a surprising pattern of Cuculus migration in Shanghai. Maybe those studies will show that considerable numbers of Cuculus passage migrants are Oriental Cuckoo.
Until that day comes, I usually hold back from ID-ing non-singing Cuculus cuckoos.
After being nearly unheard of in Shanghai as recently as a few years ago, Himalayan Swiftlet is now more and more regularly recorded in Shanghai in both spring and autumn.
The question arises of whether Himalayan Swiftlet has always been a scarce passage migrant and overlooked or whether its numbers are increasing in our area. It is of course also possible that both its numbers are increasing in our area and local birders’ skills and communication methods are improving.
That communication methods are improving is indisputable. One of the main causes of the improved communication is the WeChat group I founded, Shanghai Birding. The members of that group, who range from the newest of newbies to some of the most expert birders in China, regularly exchange sightings in real-time.
To join Shanghai Birding, friend me on WeChat (WeChat ID: craigbrelsford). Tell me that you wish to join Shanghai Birding. I’ll add you.
Here is the complete list of the birds noted by Bob Orenstein and me 10-14 Aug. 2017:
Ruddy ShelduckTadorna ferruginea Mandarin DuckAix galericulata Eastern Spot-billed DuckAnas zonorhyncha Common PheasantPhasianus colchicus Little GrebeTachybaptus ruficollis Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatus Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo Yellow BitternIxobrychus sinensis Cinnamon BitternI. cinnamomeus Grey HeronArdea cinerea Purple HeronA. purpurea Great EgretA. alba Intermediate EgretA. intermedia Little EgretEgretta garzetta Eastern Cattle EgretBubulcus coromandus Chinese Pond HeronArdeola bacchus Striated HeronButorides striata Black-crowned Night HeronNycticorax nycticorax Eastern Marsh HarrierCircus spilonotus White-breasted WaterhenAmaurornis phoenicurus Common MoorhenGallinula chloropus Eurasian CootFulica atra Black-winged StiltHimantopus himantopus Eurasian OystercatcherHaematopus ostralegus Grey PloverPluvialis squatarola Pacific Golden PloverP. fulva Grey-headed LapwingVanellus cinereus Lesser Sand PloverCharadrius mongolus Greater Sand PloverC. leschenaultii Kentish PloverC. alexandrinus Little Ringed PloverC. dubius Greater Painted-snipeRostratula benghalensis WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus Far Eastern CurlewN. madagascariensis Eurasian CurlewN. arquata Bar-tailed GodwitLimosa lapponica Black-tailed GodwitL. limosa Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpres Great KnotCalidris tenuirostris Red KnotC. canutus Broad-billed SandpiperC. falcinellus Sharp-tailed SandpiperC. acuminata Long-toed StintC. subminuta Spoon-billed SandpiperC. pygmea Red-necked StintC. ruficollis SanderlingC. alba DunlinC. alpina Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s SnipeGallinago stenura/megala Terek SandpiperXenus cinereus Red-necked PhalaropePhalaropus lobatus Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos Grey-tailed TattlerTringa brevipes Spotted RedshankT. erythropus Common GreenshankT. nebularia Nordmann’s GreenshankT. guttifer Marsh SandpiperT. stagnatilis Wood SandpiperT. glareola Common RedshankT. totanus Saunders’s GullChroicocephalus saundersi Black-headed GullC. ridibundus Black-tailed GullLarus crassirostris Little TernSternula albifrons Gull-billed TernGelochelidon nilotica Caspian TernHydroprogne caspia White-winged TernChlidonias leucopterus Whiskered TernC. hybrida Common TernSterna hirundo Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia Red Turtle DoveStreptopelia tranquebarica Spotted DoveS. chinensis Lesser CoucalCentropus bengalensis Cuculus sp. Himalayan SwiftletAerodramus brevirostris Eurasian HoopoeUpupa epops Common KingfisherAlcedo atthis Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus Peregrine FalconF. peregrinus Brown ShrikeLanius cristatus Long-tailed ShrikeL. schach Amur Paradise FlycatcherTerpsiphone incei Eurasian MagpiePica pica Oriental SkylarkAlauda gulgula Pale MartinRiparia diluta Barn SwallowHirundo rustica Red-rumped SwallowCecropis daurica Asian House MartinDelichon dasypus Japanese TitParus minor Light-vented BulbulPycnonotus sinensis Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus borealis/examinandus Eastern Crowned WarblerP. coronatus Oriental Reed WarblerAcrocephalus orientalis Zitting CisticolaCisticola juncidis Plain PriniaPrinia inornata Reed ParrotbillParadoxornis heudei Vinous-throated ParrotbillSinosuthora webbiana Red-billed StarlingSpodiopsar sericeus White-cheeked StarlingS. cineraceus Crested MynaAcridotheres cristatellus Chinese BlackbirdTurdus mandarinus Asian Brown FlycatcherMuscicapa dauurica Oriental Magpie-RobinCopsychus saularis Yellow-rumped FlycatcherFicedula zanthopygia Blue Rock ThrushMonticola solitarius Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanus Scaly-breasted MuniaLonchura punctulata White WagtailMotacilla alba Chinese GrosbeakEophona migratoria