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.

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 7 March 2016 (13 species). Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán [中山公园]; 31.221888, 121.420066), urban green space in Shanghai, China. Sunny; high 17° C. Sunrise 06:12, sunset 17:58. MON 07 MAR 2016 14:35-16:20. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 4
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 4
Japanese Tit Parus minor 4
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 18
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 9
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 9
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 2
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 2
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 13
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 1
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 2

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 11 March 2016 (23 species). Shanghai Botanical Garden (Shànghǎi Zhíwùyuán [上海植物园]; Gate 4 at 31.152036, 121.445856), an urban green space in Shanghai, China. Cloudy; low 0° C, high 9° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 11 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 167 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:08, sunset 18:00. FRI 11 MAR 2016 14:15-17:50. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 5
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 3
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 16
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 8
Japanese Tit Parus minor 3
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 2
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 35
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 16
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 15
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 28
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 9
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 3
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 5
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 2 leucopsis
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 4

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 12 March 2016 (39 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 around the empty blue-roofed building & nearby microforests (30.961368, 121.952136) & Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124). Sunny; low 0° C, high 11° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 173 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:06, sunset 18:01. SAT 12 MAR 2016 11:00-14:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Falcated Duck Anas falcata 40
​Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 15
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 30
Greater Scaup A. marila 7
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 13
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 8
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 1 in br. plumage
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 20
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 70
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Circus sp. 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 20
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 6
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 6
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 17
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 15
Dunlin Calidris alpina 60
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 4
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 40
Eurasian/Oriental Skylark Alauda arvensis/A. gulgula 8
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 12 (heard 3 flocks)
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 8
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer monatnus 26
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 6 tschutschensis
White Wagtail M. alba 16 leucopsis
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus 8
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 40

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 12 March 2016 (3 species). Huangpu Park (Huángpǔ Gōngyuán [黄浦公园]; 31.241578, 121.490811), green space on The Bund in Shanghai, China. Sunny; low 0° C, high 11° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 173 (unhealthful). Sunrise 06:06, sunset 18:01. SAT 12 MAR 2016 15:40-16:55. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 15
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus ca. 150

List 1 of 1 for Tues. 15 March 2016 (28 species). Century Park (Shìjì Gōngyuán [世纪公园]; 31.219361, 121.551900), Pudong New Area (Pǔdōng Xīn Qū [浦东新区]), Shanghai, China. Partly cloudy; low 6° C, high 12° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind ESE 18 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 72 (moderate). Sunrise 06:03, sunset 18:03. TUE 15 MAR 2016 15:00-18:05. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 7
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 4
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 4
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 80
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 7
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 70
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus 6
Japanese Tit Parus minor 7
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 45
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 1
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 130
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 180
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 1
Chinese Blackbird T. mandarinus 160
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 54
Red-throated Thrush T. ruficollis 1
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 63
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 34
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 8 leucopsis
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 2
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 14
Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans 5
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4

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)

Covering Shanghai Birding As It Has Never Been Covered Before

110,000 words. Months of research. Weeks in the field.

The result: Shanghai birding as it has never been covered before.

Our Reports page is up. It is an index to the book-length reports that Elaine Du and I have been writing about birding in Earth’s largest city.

The latest report, just completed, is called Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16. It covers the birding season from 11 Sept. 2015 through last week. This 40,000-word report lists the 268 bird species we noted and has heretofore unpublished photos and sound recordings. To our knowledge, never in a single document has birding in Shanghai been covered so thoroughly.

The latest report joins Shanghai-area Springtime Birding, 2015 (31,000 words, 243 species) and Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2014-15 (39,000 words, 216 species). The reports contain highlights, two versions of our species list, our itineraries, GPS coordinates of birding sites, recommended hotels, interesting anecdotes, lamentations on the state of the Chinese coast, and paeans to the amazing birds we witness.

Are you planning a trip to Shanghai and curious about the birds you could find at that time of year? The blog will give you current news, and Reports will show you what has been found in previous years. Do you live in Shanghai and want to know what birding is like throughout the year? Start your research on our blog; dig deeper with Reports.

In the coming weeks, Elaine and I will start the spring 2016 report.

Featured image: Craig Brelsford puts the finishing touches on Shanghai-area Autumn & Winter Birding, 2015-16, one of three reports featured on the new Reports page on shanghaibirding.com. Photo by Elaine Du.

Come Walk with Us at Nanhui

On Fri. 5 Feb. and Mon. 8 Feb., Elaine Du, Kai Pflug, and I noted 64 species on a two-day “Nanhui on Foot” tour. Horned Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, and Greater Scaup maintained their presence on Dishui Lake, and on Friday we picked out a single Black-faced Spoonbill among the Eurasian Spoonbill. On Monday we noted Water/Brown-cheeked Rail, saw a flock of 240 Kentish Plover and 900 Dunlin, and enjoyed an early morning moment with four bunting species (mainly Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Little Bunting with cameos by Chestnut-eared Bunting and Black-faced Bunting). We struggled to ID our Pallas’s Reed Bunting to ssp. level. Were the mysterious lydiae mixed in?

The interval of 72 hours between Friday and Monday saw changes to the composition of birds on Dishui Lake. Counts of Falcated Duck went from 230 on Friday to 0 on Monday. Horned Grebe and Greater Scaup also fell off our Monday list. Numbers of Tufted Duck, meanwhile, increased from 22 to 140. Common Pochard saw a jump from 0 on Friday to 300 on Monday, but they were found on the pond behind the Magic Parking Lot, which we were unable to check Friday.

Kai Pflug (L) and Elaine Du finishing up a successful birding day at Nanhui, 5 Feb. 2016. With Kai capably handling the photographic side, my skills in that field were rendered irrelevant; I put on my birdwatcher's hat and was content. My wife, as is her wont, kept records and did much scanning with the spotting scope.
Kai Pflug (L) and Elaine Du finishing up a successful birding day at Nanhui, 5 Feb. 2016. With Kai capably handling the photographic side, my skills in that field were rendered irrelevant; I put on my birdwatcher’s hat and was content. My wife, as is her wont, kept records and did much scanning with the spotting scope.

For maximum efficiency, we distributed duties among our trio. Elaine kept records and scanned the ponds with our Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope. Kai handled photography, lovingly wielding his Nikon D810 and 400 mm F2.8 lens with 2x teleconverter. I served as chief ornithologist and scope-bearer. We walked 19 km each day.

Hen Harrier (L) and Pied Harrier, Nanhui, Monday. Both are adult females. A conspicuous white rump is a feature of both Circus cyaneus and C. melanoleucos. Note however the more evenly banded tail of the former and the more contrasting upperparts of the latter. Both by Kai Pflug.
Hen Harrier (L) and Pied Harrier, Nanhui, Monday. Both are adult females. A conspicuous white rump is a feature of both Circus cyaneus and C. melanoleucos. Note however the more evenly banded tail of the former and the more contrasting upperparts of the latter. Both by Kai Pflug.

From Puxi we took Metro Line 2 to Longyang Road, where we transferred to Line 16. We exited Line 16 at Dishui Lake station and took a taxi to Microforest 2 (30.926051, 121.970781), where we began birding. On Friday, we walked all the way back to the Dishui Lake station, and on Monday, we took the bus to Dishui Lake station from the stop behind the Magic Parking Lot.

Reed Parrotbill were noted both days around Microforest 2. We had Naumann’s Thrush on Friday. As was the case last year, Eastern Yellow Wagtail (tschutschensis and taivana) have been present in Shanghai in small numbers throughout the winter.

Horned Grebe has had a sustained presence on Dishui Lake for at least the past 60 days. Also known as Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus is thought to be a rare winter visitor to our area, but it may be overlooked.

Horned Grebe, 1 of 3 seen on Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 5 Feb. 2016. Small numbers of this species have been noted on Dishui Lake since December 2015. Also known as Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus is a rare winter visitor to the Shanghai region. Photo by Kai Pflug for shanghaibirding.com.
Horned Grebe, 1 of 3 seen on Dishui Lake, Shanghai, 5 Feb. 2016. Small numbers of this species have been noted on Dishui Lake since December 2015. Also known as Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus is a rare winter visitor to the Shanghai region. Photo by Kai Pflug for shanghaibirding.com.

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 5 Feb. 2016 (49 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) and along Shijitang Road. Mostly sunny, hazy; low -2°C, high 9°C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 184. Sunrise 06:44, sunset 17:33. FRI 05 FEB 2016 08:15-15:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris 1
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 230
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 185
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 36
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 20
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 22
Greater Scaup A. marila 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 35
Horned Grebe P. auritus 3
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 2
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 143
Black-faced Spoonbill P. minor 1
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 1
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 5
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 70
Great Egret A. alba 40
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 90
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo ca. 600
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 320
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 29
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 18
Dunlin Calidris alpina 60 (flock)
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 15
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 8
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 5
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 8
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus ca. 50
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 9
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 30
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 9
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 6
Naumann’s Thrush T. naumanni 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 5
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 10 (8 taivana, 2 tschutschensis)
White Wagtail M. alba 16 (14 leucopsis, 2 lugens/ocularis)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 15
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 30
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 4
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi ca. 60

With the polluted Shanghai air acting as a filter, the morning sunlight kisses this Little Bunting ever so softly, helping photographer Kai Pflug achieve this masterful image.
With the polluted Shanghai air acting as a filter, the morning sunlight kisses this Little Bunting ever so softly, helping photographer Kai Pflug achieve this masterful image.

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 8 Feb. 2016 (56 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) and along Shijitang Road from Microforest 2 to Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782). Sunny; low 2°C, high 14°C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NNW 15 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 171. Sunrise 06:41, sunset 17:36. MON 08 FEB 2016 08:00-16:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Kai Pflug.

goose sp. 2
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 45
Mallard A. platyrhynchos 1
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 130
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 2
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 300
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 140
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 25
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 60
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 2
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 148
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 2
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 30
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 40
Great Egret A. alba 35
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 25
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo ca. 550
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos 1
Brown-cheeked/Water Rail Rallus indicus/R. aquaticus 4
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 450
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 240
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 13
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 34
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina ca. 900 (flock)
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 26
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 3
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 1
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 12
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 3
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 3
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 45
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 6
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 3
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 5 (4 taivana, 1 tschutschensis)
White Wagtail M. alba 22 (20 leucopsis, 2 lugens/ocularis)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 3
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 26
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 2
Little Bunting E. pusilla 27
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi ca. 60

Featured image: Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi, Microforest 2, Nanhui, 8 Feb. 2016. Photo by Kai Pflug for shanghaibirding.com. The thinness of the upper mandible of this specimen raises the question: Could this be E. p. lydiae?

A Bit of Lapland in Shanghai

On 30-31 Jan., Elaine and I noted 75 species at Nanhui, Hengsha, and Chongming. We had 6 Lapland Longspur on Chongming and 50 Mew Gull at Nanhui. The pair of Cinereous Vulture remain on Chongming, and we saw a good portion (65) of the Hooded Crane wintering on the great alluvial island. Red-throated Loon was still at Nanhui, and Dishui Lake once again held Greater Scaup (8), Common Goldeneye, and Horned Grebe (3). We had an impressive 350 Northern Pintail in the sea off Nanhui, and though numbers of Gadwall (590) and Falcated Duck (720) were lower than in November, the species maintain a sizable presence on Hengsha.

Lapland Longspur, Chongming, Shanghai, 31 Jan. 2016.
Lapland Longspur, Chongming, Shanghai, 31 Jan. 2016.

The longspurs appeared late Sunday, just as snow was starting to fall. The inclement weather must have upset the Buff-bellied Pipit, Eurasian Skylark, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow using the recently plowed fields. Suddenly birds were flying everywhere. The grey sky made visual ID difficult, but some of the birds were calling and identifiable by call. But not all; so I took a flurry of record shots. In one series of images was a bird I had never seen before. I sent some of the images to Jan-Erik Nilsén, who told me that the facial pattern was typical of Lapland Longspur. And so it was. MacKinnon says Calcarius lapponicus “winters in small numbers along bare meadows along E coast between 30° and 40° N and along Changjiang River”; that is a box into which our situation neatly fits.

This 3-species-in-1 image shows 2 Kamchatka Gull (bottom L, top R), Vega Gull (large gull in middle), and Black-headed Gull (bottom R). Note the 'kinder' look of Larus canus kamtschatschensis; its more rounded head, in contrast to the more gently sloping forehead of the Vega; and its smaller size in comparison to Vega. Nanhui, 30 Jan. 2016.
This 3-species-in-1 image shows 2 Kamchatka Gull (bottom L, top R), Vega Gull (large gull in middle), and Black-headed Gull (bottom R). Note the ‘kinder’ look of Larus canus kamtschatschensis; its more rounded head, in contrast to the more gently sloping forehead of the Vega; and its smaller size in comparison to Vega. Nanhui, 30 Jan. 2016.

The views of Mew Gull Larus canus came about because of preparation and luck. Ever since Michael Grunwell moved to Shanghai last year, he has been telling me to look for Mew Gull in Shanghai; he was sure it would show up here in winter. Bolstering that suspicion was a recent report from Jonathan Martinez of Mew Gull in Guangdong.

Kamchatka Gull Larus canus kamtschatschensis, Nanhui, 30 Jan. 2016. L. c. kamtschatschensis is larger and darker than the western forms L. c. canus and L. c. heinei. L. c. heinei is known to occur on the China coast and should be looked out for.
Kamchatka Gull Larus canus kamtschatschensis, Nanhui, 30 Jan. 2016. L. c. kamtschatschensis is larger and darker than the western forms L. c. canus and L. c. heinei. L. c. heinei is known to occur on the China coast and should be looked out for.

At Nanhui, gulls usually appear here and there. On Saturday, Elaine and I finally had a chance to view a large group. An afternoon tide was coming in just right, boxing about 300 gulls into a corner of the sea wall. Elaine and I were waiting with camera and spotting scope. “This is the day!” I said. Sure enough, among the dozens of Vega Gull and Black-headed Gull was a sizable element of Mew. We quickly distinguished them from the much larger Vega. The Mew we photographed seem to have a squarer head and beadier eye than would be the case with race heinei; we therefore believe our gulls are Kamchatka Gull Larus canus kamtschatschensis.

The Red-throated Loon was in the large pond behind the Holiday Inn and Magic Parking Lot. Elaine found it doing the scan. Six days earlier, we had 3 Red-throated Loon in a pond a few kilometers north. Around 500 of our Great Cormorant were perching on the giant ring in the middle of Dishui Lake. Driving along the sea wall, we saw a Red-throated Pipit eating seeds left over from the rice harvest, and in the mud below we found three bright-yellow taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

Rather than drive back to the city, Elaine and I drove straight to Changxing Island and took the ferry to Hengsha. We spent Saturday night at Héngshā Bànrìxián Mínsù (横沙半日闲民宿; +86 135-0185-1814 and +86 150-2164-5467; 120 yuan).

Sunday brought 56 species on Hengsha and Chongming. Our stay of a little more than five hours on Hengsha revealed no extraordinary birds. Eurasian Bittern were unusually visible; 3 of the 5 we noted were standing more or less in the open.

We took the ferry back to Changxing Island, and there, sitting in traffic, I happened to look out the window of our Skoda Scout and saw 3 Goldcrest. We took the Shanghai-Changjiang Bridge across the Yangtze to Chongming.

After more than two weeks on Chongming, our Cinereous Vulture appear to be doing fine. Here they were yesterday.
After more than two weeks on Chongming, our Cinereous Vulture appear to be doing fine. Here they were yesterday.

The Cinereous Vulture were a few kilometers south of the place where we had found them eight days earlier. As before, the vultures were standing on an earthen bank along the first row of fields behind the canal at the base of the sea wall. Nearby were the Hooded Crane and 21 Common Crane. The cold, grey day was enlivened by a colorful flock of 55 Grey-capped Greenfinch.

Mew Gull and Lapland Longspur became the 267th and 268th species of bird Elaine and I have noted in the Shanghai region since 11 Sept. 2015.

Elaine Du at pond behind Holiday Inn, Nanhui, Shanghai, 30 Jan. 2016. Elaine and I use the Swarovski ATX-95 telescope mounted atop our Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon-fiber tripod.
Elaine Du at pond behind Holiday Inn, Nanhui, Shanghai, 30 Jan. 2016. Elaine and I use the Swarovski ATX-95 telescope mounted atop our Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon-fiber tripod.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 30 Jan. 2016 (50 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) and along Shijitang Road from 31.000204, 121.938145 S to Magic Parking Lot (30.882784, 121.972782). Cloudy; low 2°C, high 7°C. Visibility 10 km. Wind N 23 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 78. Sunrise 06:48, sunset 17:28. SAT 30 JAN 2016 08:00-16:40. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 50
Falcated Duck Anas falcata 380
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 90
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 210
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata 11
Northern Pintail A. acuta 350
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 10
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 170
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 45
Greater Scaup A. marila 8
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 80
Horned Grebe P. auritus 3
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 78
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 23
Great Egret A. alba 11
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 36
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo ca. 600
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 1
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 5
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 350
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus ca. 90
Mew Gull Larus canus ca. 50
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus ca. 150
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 11
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 14
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 1
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3 taivana
White Wagtail M. alba 16 (12 leucopsis, 4 ocularis)
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 3
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 57
Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 8

Red-throated Pipit eating grain, Nanhui, 30 Jan. 2016.
Red-throated Pipit eating grain, Nanhui, 30 Jan. 2016.

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 31 Jan. 2016 (42 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. Cloudy and windy, snow flurries in afternoon; low 0°C, high 5°C. Wind NNE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 151. Sunrise 06:47, sunset 17:29. SUN 31 JAN 2016 07:10-12:20. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 1
Gadwall Anas strepera 590
Falcated Duck A. falcata 720
Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope 1
Eastern Spot-billed Duck A. zonorhyncha 6
Eurasian Teal A. crecca 5
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 40
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 5
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 30
Great Egret Ardea alba 6
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 25
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus 1
Hen Harrier C. cyaneus 3
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra ca. 1300
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 40 (flock)
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 6
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 2
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 55
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 18
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 10
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 12
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 3 on Changxing Is.
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 1
Dusky Thrush T. eunomus 3
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 2
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 3 (2 taivana, 1 tschutschensis)
White Wagtail M. alba 15 (11 leucopsis, 4 ocularis)
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus 12
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 4
Rustic Bunting E. rustica 2
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 3
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 17

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 31 Jan. 2016 (31 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). Cloudy and windy, snow flurries in afternoon; low 0°C, high 5°C. Wind NNE 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 151. Sunrise 06:47, sunset 17:29. SUN 31 JAN 2016 14:10-17:00. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris 11 (flock)
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 15
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 10
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus 2
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 4
Common Crane Grus grus 21
Hooded Crane G. monacha 65
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae or L. v. mongolicus 1
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Merlin F. columbarius 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 8
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 8
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 300
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 3 leucopsis
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 10
Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens japonicus 9
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 55 (flock)
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 9
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 13
Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus 6

Featured image: Its cover blown, this Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris emerges from hiding on Hengsha Island, Shanghai, China, 31 Jan. 2015. Photo by Craig Brelsford using Nikon D3S, 600 mm + 1.4x TC, F/7.1, 1/400, ISO 1600.

Nonggang Babbler: From ‘Unknown to Science’ to ‘Automatic Tick’

At Longheng, a village near Nonggang National Nature Reserve in Guangxi, Nonggang Babbler has gone from “unknown to science” to “automatic tick.” This is thanks to enterprising individuals such as Lú Róng (卢荣). Mr. Lu created a setup that he maintains daily. His Nonggang Babbler make nearly guaranteed appearances between the hours of 8 and 11. What an amazing turn of events for a species that was not discovered until 2008.

From 16-21 Dec. 2015, Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and I were in Guangxi. In Longheng, we stayed at Mr. Lu’s home, which doubles as a lodge. We noted 76 species. Within walking distance of Longheng we had, besides Nonggang Babbler, White-winged Magpie, close nighttime views of Collared Scops Owl, the elusive Lesser Shortwing, and southern China favorites Sultan Tit, Buff-breasted Babbler, Streaked Wren-Babbler, and Black-breasted Thrush. Farther afield, driving in our rented Mitsubishi Pajero, we found Large Woodshrike in the heavily wooded valley near Longheng, White-browed Piculet and Chestnut-capped Babbler in the cane fields near Longheng, Slaty-bellied Tesia in a thicket along a farm road, Siberian Rubythroat along a stream near Nonggang village, and Red-headed Trogon, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-throated Babbler, and Pale-footed Bush Warbler near Nonggang National Nature Reserve. Pin-striped Tit-Babbler and Rufescent Prinia were seen at various points, and Crested Bunting were locally abundant on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng. All of the many Fork-tailed Sunbird that we saw were male. Conspicuous by their absence or near-absence were laughingthrushes (0 species noted) and raptors (3 species noted).

Longheng and karst towers from balcony at Mr. Lu's lodge. Photo by Elaine Du.
Longheng and karst towers from balcony at Mr. Lu’s lodge. (Elaine Du)

Longheng involves a flight to Nanning and an easy, partly birdable three-hour drive south to the village. In the village, you can choose between easy activities such as photographing Nonggang Babbler at the setup and harder work such as owl-watching at night. The villagers are members of China’s largest minority group, the Zhuang. Even though sugar cane fills most flat areas, there is still much good habitat, and even the cane fields are somewhat birdable. In the surrounding forests you can get a good impression of tropical southeast China avifauna. The karst is a strange, romantic landscape. Thickly vegetated limestone towers rise like skyscrapers from the valley floor.

Reach Mr. Lu at any of the following numbers: +86 181-7815-7646, +86 (0) 771-8926541, and +86 181-7718-5027. Accommodation at Mr. Lu’s lodge was spartan, but his wife’s country cooking was just fine. For 150 yuan per person per day, we were getting a room, breakfast and supper, and access to the blinds.

Lu Rong (L), Craig Brelsford (C), and Michael Grunwell searching for White-winged Magpie at Longheng. Photo by Elaine Du.
Lu Rong (L), Craig Brelsford (C), and Michael Grunwell searching for White-winged Magpie at Longheng. (Elaine Du)

Mr. Lu is a good birder and will be happy to go birding with you if he has the time. Mr. Lu led us to the Chestnut-capped Babbler site, and he was with us when Elaine spotted the piculets in the sugar cane. He led the owl walk that got us views of Collared Scops Owl. Mr. Lu is in his 50s, was born in Longheng, knows every square inch of the territory within a 10 km radius, and is full of valuable info.

Around Longheng, one can choose between easy and difficult birding activities. Here is a tough one: finding out that the restless, skulking bird that refused to show was Grey-throated Babbler. By crawling into the bushes, I was able to get our only record of this species for our trip. Our partner Michael Grunwell is standing right. Photo by Elaine Du.
Around Longheng, one can choose between easy and difficult birding activities. Here is a tough one: finding out that the restless, skulking bird that refused to show was Grey-throated Babbler. By crawling into the bushes, I was able to get our only record of this species for our trip. Our partner Michael Grunwell is standing right. (Elaine Du)

Mr. Lu has competition: the young Huáng Yuǎn Chéng (黄远程, +86 133-1781-2383). Mr. Huang controls some of the land around the giant banyan tree just outside the village. In the wooded area near the tree, Mr. Huang has created a beautiful setup using the natural limestone as props. Mr. Huang also has a blind for viewing White-winged Magpie.

It’s possible that Mr. Lu and Mr. Huang gained their wealth of bird knowledge by hunting birds. Now, these men not only don’t hunt, but I am sure they would also stop anyone they found poaching. In tiny Longheng, a bird-photography industry has arisen, centered around Nonggang Babbler. At other places in China, notably Baihualing in Yunnan, the same thing is happening. Chinese bird photographers are the driving force behind this small industry. The lust for photos of these mainly well-off men is having a trickle-down effect, putting cash in the pockets of formerly poor farmers and creating a free-market rationale for protecting birds.

One of the easiest birding activities at Longheng is viewing Nonggang Babbler. Here I am at Mr. Lu's Nonggang Babbler setup. Photo by Elaine Du.
One of the easiest birding activities at Longheng is viewing Nonggang Babbler. Here I am at Mr. Lu’s Nonggang Babbler setup. (Elaine Du)

We did not look into getting permits for Nonggang National Nature Reserve. We had been warned that permits would be difficult to obtain, and I find demeaning the entire application process, in which extra scrutiny and double standards are applied to foreigners. We were happy with Longheng, and in any case the locked gate to the nature reserve lies several hundred meters deep within high-quality secondary forest, and one can bird to the gate without a permit.

Elaine Du was voted Most Valuable Birder of the trip. The election took place on the plane back to Shanghai. The democratic process evolved in this wise: Elaine cast her vote for me. Michael voted for Elaine. In a dramatic tie-breaking maneuver, I agreed with Michael and swung the election to Elaine. The engraving on Elaine’s citation reads: “For spotting and helping ID White-browed Piculet as well as for various & sundry excellent feats & good deeds, Elaine Du is voted Most Valuable Birder!”

Elaine Du, Most Valuable Birder of the Nonggang 2015 Birding Expedition.
Elaine Du, Most Valuable Birder of the Nonggang 2015 Birding Expedition. (Craig Brelsford)

THE TRIP

Wed. 16 Dec. 2015
Nanning

Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, and I flew from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport to Nanning. We picked up our rented Mitsubishi Pajero. Spent night at hotel near airport.

Thurs. 17 Dec. 2015
Longheng

We counted 17 Crested Bunting on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng.
We counted 17 Crested Bunting on the road between Chongzuo and Longheng. (Craig Brelsford)

Bird of the day: White-winged Magpie

We left our hotel and drove 150 km southwest, taking the G7211 freeway to Chóngzuǒ (崇左). From there we took secondary roads through Xiǎngshuǐ (响水) to our destination, Lónghēng (陇亨). We found Crested Bunting between Chongzuo and Longheng. At a scrubby area near Xiangshui, we found Plain Flowerpecker and female Black-throated Sunbird.

At Longheng we met Mr. Lu, a local man who has set up blinds in the forests nearby. He took us to a blind. There, Michael had his first view ever of White-tailed Robin. Small Niltava and Snowy-browed Flycatcher also appeared. In the evening, Mr. Lu took us to an ancient banyan tree near the village. White-winged Magpie flew off as we arrived.

Fri. 18 Dec. 2015
Longheng

Bird of the day: Nonggang Babbler

After breakfast we were taken to a setup by Mr. Lu. Other bird photographers were there. A flock of 10 Nonggang Babbler arrived. The babblers are extremely tame, so much so that Mr. Lu has not even erected a blind. The photographers sit in the open. The Nonggang Babbler were totally without fear, at times foraging within inches of our feet. The mealworms set out by Mr. Lu are clearly a powerful attractant but are only a part of their diet. The setup also attracted Streaked Wren-Babbler, White-tailed Robin, a female Fujian Niltava, and Red-flanked Bluetail. After we were finished at the Nonggang Babbler setup, we visited another blind, where Michael picked up Black-crested Bulbul, and where I enjoyed another close view of Buff-breasted Babbler. We took a long drive on dirt roads. In one of the few places where forest reaches the road, we found Slaty-bellied Tesia. We drove back to Longheng and took a third road out of the village. This was the only road where the high clearance of our Pajero was necessary. This road led to a remote valley guarded by a skull and hound from hell. It took little imagination to see the rabid dog and scowling skull in the totally natural karst. We called this remote valley “the backcountry.”

Sat. 19 Dec. 2015
Longheng

It is nearly impossible for a single photographer to photograph owls at night. For the shot of this Collared Scops Owl, I am indebted to Michael Grunwell and Mr. Lu, the former for his deft use of the flashlight, the latter for his intelligent guiding.
It is nearly impossible for a single photographer to photograph owls at night. For the shot of this Collared Scops Owl, I am indebted to Michael Grunwell and Mr. Lu, the former for his deft use of the flashlight, the latter for his intelligent guiding. (Craig Brelsford)

Bird of the day: Collared Scops Owl

In the morning we stumbled upon a blind near the giant banyan tree. This well-designed site is the work of the artful Mr. Huang, whom we later met. Here we found Japanese Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, Black-breasted Thrush, and a stunning male Fujian Niltava. We drove slowly up the steep, overgrown road to the backcountry, where we picked up Large Woodshrike and Sultan Tit. We drove to the creek at Nonggang village, finding there a male Siberian Rubythroat. We drove as far as the locked gate at Nonggang National Nature Reserve. On the way to the gate we passed through very good primary or old secondary forest. We found 4 Red-headed Trogon and 12 Long-tailed Broadbill. We returned to Longheng. Mr. Lu wanted to look for Collared Scops Owl. Michael Grunwell and I followed Mr. Lu in the dark. We were accompanied by two Chinese bird photographers. Mr. Lu supplied the headlamps; I supplied the playback. We walked a few hundred meters down the dirt road. After a while we heard 2 Collared Scops Owl. We climbed through giant bamboo to the base of the cliff. We spotted the owl right above us on the bamboo. Five people were too many, and it soon left. We walked toward the other owl. The Chinese photographers half gave up and were walking back toward Mr. Lu’s house. Michael and I glimpsed a form flying through the treetops. It was the owl. We enjoyed a sustained view.

Sun. 20 Dec. 2015
Longheng

Lesser Shortwing Brachypteryx leucophris just after its bath at photo blind in Longheng, Guangxi, 20 Dec. 2015. F/4, 1/8, ISO 10000.
Lesser Shortwing Brachypteryx leucophris just after its bath at photo blind in Longheng, Guangxi, 20 Dec. 2015. F/4, 1/8, ISO 10000. (Craig Brelsford)

Bird of the day: Lesser Shortwing

We began our day at Mr. Huang’s blind near the giant banyan tree. Mr. Huang came by and took us to another blind, set up to allow photographers to view White-winged Magpie. The magpies arrived, as expected, but only for a few seconds. We drove to Nonggang, where we found Pale-footed Bush Warbler. We drove back to Longheng and revisited Mr. Huang’s Banyan Blind. We waited until after sunset. The light was so low that I could hardly focus my camera. Our patience paid off with Lesser Shortwing.

Through the gloom we could just make out the form of a small bird. So dark was it by now that I could ID the bird only by the photos I was taking of it.

The shortwing helped itself to a few mealworms and took a bath. It had no competition. Its strategy was to wait out the bigger birds and use its tolerance for very low light as an advantage. We got sustained views and photos of a rarely seen bird.

The shortwing was the capstone on another successful project in low-light bird photography. Ever since a magical morning in June 2010, when I photographed Fairy Pitta in the pre-dawn light at Dongzhai, Henan, I have been drawn to photographing forest birds in low light.

The shortwing seems to be looking at us, but actually it has no idea it is being watched. It is simply responding to the soft click of the camera. What an advantage blinds can give birders. Where else but in a blind can one view a Lesser Shortwing, among the shyest of birds, for 10 minutes? F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000.
The shortwing seems to be looking at us, but actually it has no idea it is being watched. It is simply responding to the soft click of the camera. What an advantage blinds can give birders. Where else but in a blind can one view a Lesser Shortwing, among the shyest of birds, for 10 minutes? F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000. (Craig Brelsford)

My current setup is well-suited to this task. I place my Nikon D3S and Nikon 600 mm F/4 lens atop my Manfrotto MVH502AH video head and Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon-fiber tripod. The D3S is now a 6-year-old model; though superseded by newer models such as the D4S, the D3S remains one of the best low-light cameras ever made, easily creating usable photos at ISO 10000.

I put the D3S in mirror-up mode. I tighten the head to the firmest position and slowly follow the movement of the shortwing with my left hand, which holds the wand attached to the head. When the shortwing stops, I release my hand from the wand; because the head is tight and hard to move, the camera always rests in the position to which I guide it.

This dorsal view provides plenty of detail. Note the short wings and stubby tail. F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000.
This dorsal view provides plenty of detail. Note the short wings and stubby tail. F/8, 1/5, ISO 10000. (Craig Brelsford)

I press the button on my shutter-release cable, held in my right hand. The first press opens the mirror; I wait a second, then press the button again, opening the shutter and exposing the image.

Low light is not bad light. With patience, skill, and the right equipment, one can achieve lovely images of birds in near-darkness.

Mon. 21 Dec. 2015
Longheng-Nanning-Shanghai

Bird of the day: White-browed Piculet

In the morning, Michael, Elaine, and I were led by Mr. Lu to a site (22.525578, 107.012304) 7 km from Longheng known to hold Chestnut-capped Babbler. We found 4 amid streamside vegetation and sugar cane. We next looked for Yellow-eyed Babbler at several sites at the edges of sugar-cane fields. We found none but got a fine consolation prize: 3 White-browed Piculet. The piculets were found in the sugar cane at 22.478903, 107.000033 and according to Mr. Lu breed in the heavily wooded village near that point. April is the best time to view the breeding piculets, he said. Our team had spread out and was alerted to the piculets by Elaine’s shouts. She didn’t recognize the piculets, but her vivid description led Mr. Lu to surmise that White-browed Piculet was a possibility. Playback attracted them back, and we all got good views. Michael was ecstatic; his last bird of the trip was a lifer.

We dropped Mr. Lu off at Longheng and enjoyed a smooth ride back to Nanning airport and an uneventful plane ride back to Shanghai.

PHOTO GALLERY

The pale-blue iris and a white crescent behind the ear are among the features distinguishing Stachyris nonggangensis from Sooty Babbler S. herberti, which occurs in Laos and Vietnam and is the species to which Nonggang Babbler is most often compared.
The pale-blue iris and a white crescent behind the ear are among the features distinguishing Stachyris nonggangensis from Sooty Babbler S. herberti, which occurs in Laos and Vietnam and is the species to which Nonggang Babbler is most often compared.
Buff-breasted Babbler Pellorneum tickelli was one of several south-China specialties we enjoyed in Longheng.
Buff-breasted Babbler Pellorneum tickelli was one of several south-China specialties we enjoyed in Longheng. (Craig Brelsford)
Hides are great equalizers. Under normal conditions, birders would struggle to tick Streaked Wren-Babbler. At Mr. Lu's hide, this fellow lingered for minutes at a time, and even scolded us!
Hides are great equalizers. Under normal conditions, birders would struggle to tick Streaked Wren-Babbler. At Mr. Lu’s hide, this fellow lingered for minutes at a time, and even scolded us! (Craig Brelsford)
Noisy, gregarious, and flamboyantly colored, Long-tailed Broadbill provide unforgettable moments to the birder.
Noisy, gregarious, and flamboyantly colored, Long-tailed Broadbill provide unforgettable moments to the birder. (Craig Brelsford)
Sitting patiently in Mr. Huang's hide paid off with this serviceable shot of White-winged Magpie.
Sitting patiently in Mr. Huang’s hide paid off with this serviceable shot of White-winged Magpie. (Craig Brelsford)
Turdus is an easy genus to love. Turdus is powerful, with representatives on all the habitable continents and even Oceania; consistent, with the same basic size and rounded shape common to all species; and beautiful, as in the case of south China's Black-breasted Thrush Turdus dissimilis.
Turdus is an easy genus to love. Turdus is powerful, with representatives on all the habitable continents and even Oceania; consistent, with the same basic size and rounded shape common to all species; and beautiful, as in the case of south China’s Black-breasted Thrush T. dissimilis. (Craig Brelsford)

LISTS

Simple List of Species of Bird Noted Around Longheng and Nonggang National Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China, 16-21 Dec. 2015 (76 species)

Greater Coucal
Collared Scops Owl
Red-headed Trogon
Common Kingfisher
White-browed Piculet
Bay Woodpecker
Common Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Long-tailed Broadbill
Large Woodshrike
Long-tailed Shrike
White-bellied Erpornis
Ashy Drongo
White-throated Fantail
Red-billed Blue Magpie
White-winged Magpie
Large-billed Crow
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
Sultan Tit
Japanese Tit
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Light-vented Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Puff-throated Bulbul
Black Bulbul
Red-rumped Swallow
Yellow-bellied Warbler
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler
Slaty-bellied Tesia
Pale-footed Bush Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Two-barred Warbler
Bianchi’s Warbler
Rufescent Prinia
Plain Prinia
Common Tailorbird
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler
Nonggang Babbler
Grey-throated Babbler
Rufous-capped Babbler
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
Chestnut-capped Babbler
David’s Fulvetta
Streaked Wren-Babbler
Buff-breasted Babbler
Japanese White-eye
Crested Myna
Grey-backed Thrush
Black-breasted Thrush
Japanese Thrush
Chinese Blackbird
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Fujian Niltava
Small Niltava
Lesser Shortwing
Daurian Redstart
White-tailed Robin
Siberian Rubythroat
Red-flanked Bluetail
Snowy-browed Flycatcher
Stejneger’s Stonechat
Grey Bush Chat
Plain Flowerpecker
Fork-tailed Sunbird
Black-throated Sunbird
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Olive-backed Pipit
Crested Bunting
Black-faced Bunting

Systematic List of Species of Bird Noted Around Longheng and Nonggang National Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China, 16-21 Dec. 2015 (76 species)

Accipitriformes: Accipitridae

Crested Goshawk
凤头鹰 (fèngtóu yīng)
Accipiter trivirgatus

1 on 2015-12-21

Cuculiformes: Cuculidae

Greater Coucal
褐翅鸦鹃 (hèchì yājuān)
Centropus sinensis

2 on 2015-12-17
1 on 2015-12-19
1 on 2015-12-21

Strigiformes: Strigidae

Collared Scops Owl
西领角鸮 (xī lǐngjiǎoxiāo)
Otus lettia

2 on 2015-12-19

Trogoniformes: Trogonidae

Red-headed Trogon
红头咬鹃 (hóngtóu yǎojuān)
Harpactes erythrocephalus

4 on 2015-12-19

Coraciiformes: Alcedinidae

Common Kingfisher
普通翠鸟 (pǔtōng cuìniǎo)
Alcedo atthis

1 on 2015-12-17

Piciformes: Picidae

White-browed Piculet
白眉棕啄木鸟 (báiméi zōngzhuómùniǎo)
Sasia ochracea

3 on 2015-12-21

Bay Woodpecker
黄嘴栗啄木鸟 (huángzuǐ lìzhuómùniǎo)
Blythipicus pyrrhotis

1 on 2015-12-17
1 on 2015-12-19

Falconiformes: Falconidae

Common Kestrel
红隼 (hóng sǔn)
Falco tinnunculus

1 on 2015-12-17

Peregrine Falcon
游隼 (yóusǔn)
Falco peregrinus

1 on 2015-12-19

Passeriformes: Eurylaimidae

Long-tailed Broadbill
长尾阔嘴鸟 (chángwěi kuòzuǐniǎo)
Psarisomus dalhousiae

12 on 2015-12-19

Passeriformes: Tephrodornithidae

Large Woodshrike
钩嘴林䴗 (gōuzuǐ línjú)
Tephrodornis virgatus

20 on 2015-12-19

Passeriformes: Laniidae

Long-tailed Shrike
棕背伯劳 (zōngbèi bóláo)
Lanius schach

5 on 2015-12-17
2 on 2015-12-18
1 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Vireonidae

White-bellied Erpornis
白腹凤鹛 (báifù fèngméi)
Erpornis zantholeuca

1 on 2015-12-17
6 on 2015-12-19
7 on 2015-12-20

Passeriformes: Dicruridae

Ashy Drongo
灰卷尾 (huī juǎnwěi)
Dicrurus leucophaeus hopwoodi

1 on 2015-12-19

Passeriformes: Rhipiduridae

White-throated Fantail
白喉扇尾鹟 (báihóu shànwěiwēng)
Rhipidura albicollis

2 on 2015-12-18
7 on 2015-12-19
4 on 2015-12-20

Passeriformes: Corvidae

Red-billed Blue Magpie
红嘴蓝鹊 (hóngzuǐ lánquè)
Urocissa erythroryncha

1 on 2015-12-17

White-winged Magpie
白翅蓝鹊 (báichì lánquè)
Urocissa whiteheadi

3 on 2015-12-17
3 on 2015-12-20
2 on 2015-12-21

Large-billed Crow
大嘴乌鸦 (dàzuǐ wūyā)
Corvus macrorhynchos

7 on 2015-12-17
1 on 2015-12-18
1 on 2015-12-20
2 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Stenostiridae

Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
方尾鹟 (fāngwěi wēng)
Culicicapa ceylonensis

1 on 2015-12-19
2 on 2015-12-20

Passeriformes: Paridae

Sultan Tit
冕雀 (miǎn què)
Melanochlora sultanea

3 on 2015-12-19
4 on 2015-12-20
1 on 2015-12-21

Japanese Tit
远东山雀 (yuǎndōng shānquè)
Parus minor

5 on 2015-12-17
5 on 2015-12-20
1 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Pycnonotidae

Black-crested Bulbul
黑冠黄鹎 (hēiguān huángbēi)
Pycnonotus flaviventris

1 on 2015-12-18

Red-whiskered Bulbul
红耳鹎 (hóng’ěr bēi)
Pycnonotus jocosus

20 on 2015-12-17
15 on 2015-12-18
30 on 2015-12-19
20 on 2015-12-20
30 on 2015-12-21

Light-vented Bulbul
白头鹎 (báitóu bēi)
Pycnonotus sinensis

8 on 2015-12-21

Sooty-headed Bulbul
白喉红臀鹎 (báihóu hóngtúnbēi)
Pycnonotus aurigaster

10 on 2015-12-17
10 on 2015-12-21

Puff-throated Bulbul
白喉冠鹎 (báihóu guānbēi)
Alophoixus pallidus

4 on 2015-12-20

Black Bulbul
黑短脚鹎 (hēi duǎnjiǎobēi)
Hypsipetes leucocephalus

10 on 2015-12-18
36 on 2015-12-19
4 on 2015-12-20
2 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Hirundinidae

Red-rumped Swallow
金腰燕 (jīnyāo yàn)
Cecropis daurica

15 on 2015-12-17
15 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Cettiidae

Yellow-bellied Warbler
黄腹鹟莺 (huángfù wēngyīng)
Abroscopus superciliaris

2 on 2015-12-17
6 on 2015-12-18
10 on 2015-12-19
8 on 2015-12-20

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler
强脚树莺 (qiángjiǎo shùyīng)
Horornis fortipes

8 on 2015-12-20

Slaty-bellied Tesia
金冠地莺 (jīnguān dìyīng)
Tesia olivea

1 on 2015-12-18

Pale-footed Bush Warbler
淡脚树莺 (dànjiǎo shùyīng)
Urosphena pallidipes

3 on 2015-12-20

Passeriformes: Phylloscopidae

Dusky Warbler
褐柳莺 (hè liǔyīng)
Phylloscopus fuscatus

1 on 2015-12-19

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
黄腰柳莺 (huángyāoliǔyīng)
Phylloscopus proregulus

1 on 2015-12-18

Yellow-browed Warbler
黄眉柳莺 (huángméi liǔyīng)
Phylloscopus inornatus

8 on 2015-12-17
8 on 2015-12-18
3 on 2015-12-19
3 on 2015-12-20
3 on 2015-12-21

Two-barred Warbler
双斑绿柳莺 (huāngbān lǜliǔyīng)
Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus

1 on 2015-12-17
1 on 2015-12-19
1 on 2015-12-20

Bianchi’s Warbler
比氏鹟莺 (bǐshì wēngyīng)
Seicercus valentini

3 on 2015-12-19
1 on 2015-12-20

Passeriformes: Cisticolidae

Rufescent Prinia
暗冕鹪莺 (ànmiǎn jiāoyīng)
Prinia rufescens

3 on 2015-12-17
8 on 2015-12-18
5 on 2015-12-19
8 on 2015-12-20

Plain Prinia
褐头鹪莺 (hètóu jiāoyīng)
Prinia inornata

2 on 2015-12-17
5 on 2015-12-19
8 on 2015-12-21

Common Tailorbird
长尾缝叶莺 (chángwěi féngyèyīng)
Orthotomus sutorius

3 on 2015-12-17
3 on 2015-12-18
10 on 2015-12-19
15 on 2015-12-20
6 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Timaliidae

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler
棕颈钩嘴鹛 (zōngjǐng gōuzuǐméi)
Pomatorhinus ruficollis

6 on 2015-12-17
5 on 2015-12-18
30 on 2015-12-19
30 on 2015-12-20

Nonggang Babbler
弄岗穗鹛 (nònggǎng suìméi)
Stachyris nonggangensis

10 on 2015-12-18

Grey-throated Babbler
黑头穗鹛 (hēitóu suìméi)
Stachyris nigriceps

2 on 2015-12-19

Rufous-capped Babbler
红头穗鹛 (hóngtóu suìméi)
Stachyridopsis ruficeps

8 on 2015-12-17
6 on 2015-12-18
15 on 2015-12-19
5 on 2015-12-20
7 on 2015-12-21

Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
纹胸鹛 (wénxiōng méi)
Macronus gularis

8 on 2015-12-17
3 on 2015-12-18
20 on 2015-12-19
20 on 2015-12-20

Chestnut-capped Babbler
红顶鹛 (hóngdǐng méi)
Timalia pileata

4 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Pellorneidae

David’s Fulvetta
灰眶雀鹛 (huīkuàng quèméi)
Alcippe davidi

20 on 2015-12-17
20 on 2015-12-18
40 on 2015-12-19
25 on 2015-12-20

Streaked Wren-Babbler
短尾鹪鹛 (duǎnwěi jiāoméi)
Napothera brevicaudata

1 on 2015-12-18
1 on 2015-12-19

Buff-breasted Babbler
棕胸雅鹛 (zōngxiōng yǎméi)
Pellorneum tickelli

6 on 2015-12-17
3 on 2015-12-18
3 on 2015-12-19
3 on 2015-12-20

Passeriformes: Zosteropidae

Japanese White-eye
暗绿绣眼鸟 (ànlǜ xiùyǎnniǎo)
Zosterops japonicus

2 on 2015-12-17
2 on 2015-12-18
6 on 2015-12-20
2 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Sturnidae

Crested Myna
八哥 (bāgē)
Acridotheres cristatellus

1 on 2015-12-17

Passeriformes: Turdidae

Grey-backed Thrush
灰背鸫 (huībèi dōng)
Turdus hortulorum

1 on 2015-12-19
1 on 2015-12-20

Black-breasted Thrush
黑胸鸫 (hēixiōng dōng)
Turdus dissimilis

1 on 2015-12-19
2 on 2015-12-20
1 on 2015-12-21

Japanese Thrush
乌灰鸫 (wūhuī dōng)
Turdus cardis

1 on 2015-12-19
1 on 2015-12-20

Chinese Blackbird
乌鸫 (wū dōng)
Turdus mandarinus

1 on 2015-12-17
1 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Muscicapidae

Oriental Magpie-Robin
鹊鸲 (quèqú)
Copsychus saularis

4 on 2015-12-17
2 on 2015-12-18
2 on 2015-12-20
2 on 2015-12-21

Fujian Niltava
棕腹大仙鹟 (zōngfù dàxiānwēng)
Niltava davidi

1 on 2015-12-18
1 on 2015-12-19
1 on 2015-12-20

Small Niltava
小仙鹟 (xiǎo xiānwēng)
Niltava macgrigoriae

1 on 2015-12-17
2 on 2015-12-20

Lesser Shortwing
白喉短翅鸫 (báihóu duǎnchìdōng)
Brachypteryx leucophris

1 on 2015-12-20

Siberian Rubythroat
红喉歌鸲 (hónghóu gēqú)
Calliope calliope

1 on 2015-12-19

Red-flanked Bluetail
红胁蓝尾鸲 (hóngxié lánwěiqú)
Tarsiger cyanurus

2 on 2015-12-17
4 on 2015-12-18
12 on 2015-12-19
10 on 2015-12-20
3 on 2015-12-21

Snowy-browed Flycatcher
棕胸蓝姬鹟 (zōngxiōng lánjīwēng)
Ficedula hyperythra

1 on 2015-12-17

Daurian Redstart
北红尾鸲 (běi hóngwěiqú)
Phoenicurus auroreus

1 on 2015-12-21

White-tailed Robin
白尾蓝地鸲 (báiwěi lándìqú)
Myiomela leucura

1 on 2015-12-17
5 on 2015-12-18
2 on 2015-12-19
2 on 2015-12-20

Stejneger’s Stonechat
东亚石䳭 (dōngyà shíjí)
Saxicola stejnegeri

4 on 2015-12-17
3 on 2015-12-18
2 on 2015-12-21

Grey Bush Chat
灰林鵖 (huī línjí)
Saxicola ferreus

3 on 2015-12-18
2 on 2015-12-19
1 on 2015-12-20
4 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Dicaeidae

Plain Flowerpecker
纯色啄花鸟 (chúnsè zhuóhuāniǎo)
Dicaeum minullum

1 on 2015-12-17

Fork-tailed Sunbird
叉尾太阳鸟 (chāwěi tàiyángniǎo)
Aethopyga christinae

8 on 2015-12-17
6 on 2015-12-18
6 on 2015-12-20

Black-throated Sunbird
黑胸太阳鸟 (hēixiōng tàiyángniǎo)
Aethopyga saturata

1 on 2015-12-17

Passeriformes: Passeridae

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
树麻雀 (shù máquè)
Passer montanus

ca. 100 on 2015-12-17
25 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Estrildidae

White-rumped Munia
白腰文鸟 (báiyāo wénniǎo)
Lonchura striata

10 on 2015-12-17

Scaly-breasted Munia
斑文鸟 (bān wénniǎo)
Lonchura punctulata

8 on 2015-12-17
8 on 2015-12-19
12 on 2015-12-21

Passeriformes: Motacillidae

Grey Wagtail
灰鹡鸰 (huī jílíng)
Motacilla cinerea

1 on 2015-12-17

White Wagtail
白鹡鸰 (bái jílíng)
Motacilla alba

10 on 2015-12-17
3 on 2015-12-19
3 on 2015-12-20
2 on 2015-12-21

Olive-backed Pipit
树鹨 (shù liù)
Anthus hodgsoni

2 on 2015-12-17

Passeriformes: Emberizidae

Crested Bunting
凤头鹀 (fèngtóu wū)
Emberiza lathami

17 on 2015-12-17
3 on 2015-12-21

Black-faced Bunting
灰头鹀 (huītóu wū)
Emberiza spodocephala

1 on 2015-12-17

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Does not cover Guangxi province. Consulted in Shanghai.

del Hoyo, Josep, et al., eds. The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions.

Lynx Edicions. The Internet Bird Collection. ibc.lynxeds.com

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. We had a copy of MacKinnon at our lodge and consulted it at night.

Oriental Bird Club. Oriental Bird Images. orientalbirdimages.org.

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Our first reference. “E Tonkin” (Vietnam) is the region closest to Nonggang.

Smith, Andrew T. & Yan Xie, eds. Mammals of China. Princeton University Press.

Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World. xeno-canto.org. Craig has downloaded hundreds of calls from this Web site.

EQUIPMENT

Cameras: Nikon D3S; for landscapes, Apple iPad, Apple iPhone 4S, and Apple iPhone 6
Lens: Nikon VR 600mm F/4G
Sound recorder: Olympus DM-650
Binoculars: Swarovski EL 8 x 32 (Craig), Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 (Elaine)
Spotting scope: Swarovski ATX-95

Featured image: It may seem incredible that a vertebrate species in China remained unknown to science until the 21st century. That however is the case with Nonggang Babbler Stachyris nonggangensis, discovered by Chinese researchers in 2008. (Craig Brelsford)

Koklass Pheasant Highlight Tianmu Trip

On Sunday 22 Nov. 2015, I completed a rainy three-day trip to the Tianmu Mountains, 270 km (168 miles) southwest of Shanghai. The highlight was 4 Koklass Pheasant on Saturday. My wife and partner Elaine Du and I found the pheasants on a long walk down the mountain road at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. We found several other common south China species rarely or never recorded in Shanghai, among them Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Collared Owlet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, White-crowned Forktail, and Little Forktail. Among the wintering birds were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Mugimaki Flycatcher.

After many weeks spent watching migrating birds along the coast, Elaine and I noted the more settled character of the bird life in the big southern-temperate montane forest at Tianmu. Many of the species we saw have ranges that extend not much farther north than Tianmu.

On Saturday we took the bus to the parking lot at Longfengjian, the famous Japanese Cedar forest. We declined to pay 140 yuan per person to enter the forest. Instead, we walked the road back toward our hotel. The first Koklass took off from cover and flew down slope. A few bends and twists of the road below, we again heard the beating of pheasants’ wings. Finally, at a spectacular clearing about 3 km (2 miles) below Longfengjian, I got a view of a female Koklass startled into flight. I rushed to the edge of the slope, just in time to see her partner, a stunning green-headed male. In the high-quality habitat of Tianmu, large and well-protected, pheasants may be numerous.

At that clearing, the view the pheasants take in is superb, especially on a wet day, with clouds partly filling the valley below. The exercise, fresh air, and good birds put us in a fine mood. I was without my camera, not willing to carry it through the mist, and I reveled in my mobility. When I heard a Koklass calling from bamboo, I jumped in to take a look. I couldn’t find the pheasant, but no matter: The sound of a singing Collared Owlet quickly refocused my attention.

The forest around Longfengjian is mixed broadleaf-conifer. The moderately thick undergrowth is composed partly of short, wispy bamboo. The broadleaf trees are bare now, and the scene is reminiscent of colder, more northern climes. Farther down, more trees retain their leaves, the undergrowth is in places impenetrable, and bamboo grows in thick stands.

Elaine and I have now had a pair of Tianmu trips–one this past May and now this one six months later. The trips have given us a view of Tianmu at opposite ends of the year. We now better understand the southern Chinese flora and avifauna right at the doorstep of Shanghai, and we appreciate more than ever the transitional, north-south character of east-central China.

PHOTOS

Koklass Pheasant droppings.
At the spectacular clearing below Longfengjian, Koklass Pheasant droppings suggest a substantial presence of these unusual gamebirds. (Craig Brelsford)
The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015.
The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m (3,350 ft.). (Elaine Du)
Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing, West Tianmu, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015. Elev. 1020 m. Note the bare vegetation, the presence of bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet.
Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing. Note the bare vegetation, the bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet. (Craig Brelsford)

NOTES

To view our checklists from this trip, go to eBird:

20 Nov. 2015
21 Nov. 2015
22 Nov. 2015

Other posts about Tianmushan:

Tianmushan: A Must See Site for Shanghai Birders (Part 1)
Tianmushan: A Must See Site for Shanghai Birders (Part 2)
Tianmushan in July

Featured photo: Female Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha, Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, Sichuan, 20 May 2013. Pucrasia macrolopha ranges from the Himalaya to eastern China. The species may be common at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. (Craig Brelsford)