Sakhalin & Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Singing Together

Today, 5 May 2016, I got my first-ever record of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. The bird was singing on the tiny island at the little central pond (31.224111, 121.414194) at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai. Singing nearby was Pale-legged Leaf Warbler.

I saw a Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, pulled out my iPhone, and played back a recording of Pale-legged. I got no response. I played Sakhalin for a while, got no response, then stopped. I knew not to walk away, but wait. As Shanghai is outside the breeding range of both species, their urge to sing may not be strong, but it is May and the testosterone is flowing. A response may come after a lag.

Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes/borealoides, Yangkou, Jiangsu, 1 May 2014. As is usually the case, because the bird in this photo was not singing, I was unable to identify it beyond the level of Pale-legged/Sakhalin. On 5 May 2016, I had the good luck of finding not one, but both members of the Pale/Sak species pair singing, and thus identifiable to species level. I was able to make the double ID of these poorly known East Asian species in a busy park in the middle of Shanghai. Photo taken from archives of craigbrelsford.com.
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes/borealoides, Yangkou, Jiangsu, 1 May 2014. As is usually the case, because the bird in this photo was not singing, I was unable to identify it beyond the level of Pale-Sak. On 5 May 2016, I had the good luck of finding not one, but both members of the Pale-Sak species pair singing, and thus identifiable to species level. I was able to make the double ID of these poorly known East Asian species in a busy park in the middle of Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

I was standing at the edge of the little pond, admiring Narcissus Flycatcher. My brain was barely registering the normal background noise being made by Japanese Tit, Light-vented Bulbul, Chinese Blackbird, Chinese Grosbeak, caged Chinese Hwamei, and old folks practicing qigong. Suddenly from the din came an anomalous sound. I trained my attention to the high-pitched whistle. Sakhalin! My playback had apparently been heard and had attracted a Sakhalin to the tree on the island closest to me on the “mainland.” I glimpsed the bird but saw nothing in its plumage or bare parts to tell it from Pale-legged. In the field, the only reliable element separating the two species is song. Sakhalin makes a three-note whistle, very different from the cricket-like trill of Pale-legged. The three-note whistle is exactly what I was hearing.

After a few minutes, the singing stopped, and then, as if on cue, the trill of Pale-legged surged out from the foliage. I again played back Pale-legged recordings and this time got an immediate and very strong response. Making the “tink” call, a Pale-legged flew to my side of the pond and lingered in trees near me. The tink is apparently similar to that of Sakhalin and therefore not a reliable separator. But soon the tink was followed by another trill, and I knew I was looking at Pale-legged.

What luck! There I was, in the middle of Earth’s largest city, hearing the songs of two East Asian leaf warblers, one of them (Sakhalin) little-known. Does urban birding get any better than this?

My trusty Olympus DM-650 sound recorder, the device I used to record Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. In May, the height of migration season, my sound recorder is like the American Express card: 'Don't Leave Home Without It!'
My trusty Olympus DM-650 sound recorder, the device I used to record Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. In May, the height of migration season, my sound recorder is like the American Express card: ‘Don’t Leave Home Without It!’ (Craig Brelsford)

I sound-recorded both species. In all the recordings, one can hear the din from a busy inner-city park. In the first of the two song fragments of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, among the species heard in the background is Ashy Minivet.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Song Fragments 1/2 (00:51; 2.8 MB)

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Song Fragments 2/2 (00:36; 2.2 MB)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Trill (00:03; 922 KB)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Tink (00:15; 1.4 MB)

Thanks to Jan-Erik Nilsén, Jonathan Martinez, and Jason Loghry for their help in today’s project.

Featured image: Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes/borealoides, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 1 May 2014. Some authors note subtle differences in plumage and structure, but the features overlap, making non-singing Pale-legged and Sakhalin virtually indistinguishable in the field. The species pair is distinguishable from other leaf warblers by their very pale, pink legs. The species pump the tail steadily and often cling to tree trunks, somewhat like a nuthatch. Pale-legged breeds in the Russian Far East and northeast China; Sakhalin breeds on Sakhalin Island and in Japan. (Craig Brelsford)

Mayday! Mayday! Singing Pechora Pipit in Shanghai!

Elaine and I noted 112 species over May Day weekend 2016. We did island birding on Lesser Yangshan, coastal birding at Nanhui, and inner-city birding at Zhongshan Park. Highlights were 26 Pechora Pipit, 6 of them singing, plus (Japanese) Yellow Bunting and 2 endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting at Nanhui. Nanhui also gave us 3 Chinese Egret, a rare view of Large Hawk-Cuckoo, endangered Far Eastern Curlew and 4 near-threatened Curlew Sandpiper, and high-value passage migrants such as Chinese Sparrowhawk, Asian Stubtail, Brown-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Chestnut Bunting. Lesser Yangshan yielded 2 Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Greater Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, 18 near-threatened Grey-tailed Tattler, 2 Broad-billed Sandpiper, and Taiga Flycatcher. Seasonal firsts were numerous and included Little Tern, Dusky Warbler, and Black-browed Reed Warbler at Nanhui and Grey-streaked Flycatcher on Lesser Yangshan. On Sat. 30 April and Sun. 1 May we birded with veteran English birder Michael Grunwell.

Pechora Pipit sparring, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This is just one instance of aggressive behavior being displayed by Pechoras. We noted 6 Pechoras singing, and we watched a Pechora drive an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting from a perch.
Pechora Pipit sparring, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This is just one instance of aggressive behavior being displayed by Pechoras. We noted 6 Pechoras singing, and we watched a Pechora drive an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting from a perch. (Craig Brelsford)

On Saturday near Microforest 2 at Nanhui, Michael enjoyed his first views of Pechora Pipit in 26 years while Elaine and I enjoyed our second view in a week of this scarce passage migrant. Those views were just a prelude to the excitement of Sunday. Again at Nanhui, driving along the sea-wall road, we began finding Pechoras. Some of them were singing; two of them were sparring. We decided to make a survey of this scarce passage migrant. Driving slowly from the Holiday Inn north, we scanned the thickly vegetated inner base of the sea wall. Thousands of trees have been planted there recently, giving the Pechoras perches and making them easier to see. We counted 26. Here is the song I recorded of Pechora Pipit (00:27; 1.9 MB):

Another view of Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the fine but distinct streaks on the crown and the pinkish bill.
Another view of Pechora Pipit. Note the fine but distinct streaks on the crown and the pinkish bill. (Craig Brelsford)

Saturday began with a 4 a.m. pickup of Michael and 90-minute drive to Lesser Yangshan. We went first to Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873). Accidental Marsh is several hectares of newly formed wetland created by the construction of a causeway linking Lesser Yangshan and Dazhitou Island. Besides the waders noted above, we found singing Oriental Reed Warbler, and we rejoiced because for a change we had found a place where the reed-bed habitat of that species is expanding, rather than contracting, as is so often the case on the beleaguered Chinese coast. Another interesting record there was Black-collared Starling, uncommon in the Shanghai region. Moving to Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), we found Black Drongo and the Rufous-tailed Robin singing from cover. On the half-destroyed Garbage Dump Coastal Plain next to the Gully, we met a lone Pacific Golden Plover.

Michael Grunwell (L) and Craig Brelsford examining shorebirds on Accidental Mudflat, Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, China, 30 April 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.
Michael Grunwell (L) and Craig Brelsford examining shorebirds on Accidental Mudflat, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016. (Elaine Du)

We drove back to the mainland and remained at Nanhui the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday. We noticed once again that the Magic Parking Lot (30.882688, 121.972489) and nearby areas are turning into a circus, especially on holiday weekends. Upwards of 300 cars are parked there at midday, and though the Parking Lot is an effective migrant trap, on weekends in good weather birding the Lot is difficult after 9 a.m.

In light of the new popularity of the Lot as well as the continued flattening of the local reed beds, we are looking for new areas to bird. We found a place we are calling South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106). South Lock is the area around the place where the S2 expressway meets the mainland. A sluice gate is nearby, hence the name. On Saturday, trees at South Lock were holding Eastern Crowned Warbler, a species beloved by Michael, and the adjacent ponds and marshes held waders and buntings and gave us our only weekend record of Grey Wagtail. A stop there on Sunday morning gave us our Dusky Warbler. South Lock looks good and because so near the freeway may remain undeveloped. Another new area for us is South Lawn (midpoint at 30.849840, 121.897953), a stretch of grassy land at the inner base of the sea wall north of Luchao (Lúcháo Gǎng [芦潮港]). There we found flocks of Eastern Yellow Wagtail containing members of the nominate race as well as taivana.

Siberian Blue Robin (female), Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the strong black bill and very pale, pink legs.
Siberian Blue Robin (female), Nanhui, 1 May 2016. Note the strong black bill and very pale, pink legs. (Craig Brelsford)

All four of our views of Siberian Blue Robin occurred in the Nanhui microforests. In Shanghai, Sibe Blue offers a good example of how migrant traps work. This species will spend the summer in thick cover in the great forests of northeastern China, the Russian Far East, Sakhalin Island, and Japan. It is a master skulker. Flying up the Nanhui coast, with its dearth of forest cover, a Sibe Blue sees the microforests the same way a tired traveler sees a hotel after a long day on the road. In the Nanhui microforests, now thickly carpeted with daisies and grasses, watch your step! Tired migrants such as Asian Stubtail, Sibe Blue, Rufous-tailed Robin, and Pale Thrush will wait until your foot is inches away before exploding out.

Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Well-known because of its manic 'Brain fever!' call and common in south China, Large Hawk-Cuckoo is rarely recorded in Shanghai. This photo is by far the best I have ever taken of Hierococcyx sparverioides and occasioned much celebration by our team. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5, 1/2500, ISO 1250, hand-held.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Nanhui, 1 May. Well-known because of its manic ‘Brain fever!’ call and common in south China, Large Hawk-Cuckoo is rarely recorded in Shanghai. This photo is by far the best I have ever taken of Hierococcyx sparverioides and occasioned much celebration by our team. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5, 1/2500, ISO 1250, hand-held. (Craig Brelsford)

May Day is arguably the height of migration season in the Shanghai region. On sunny, warm days such as Sunday, the stimulation is constant, and exciting moments are many. Here is just one of many anecdotes: Nanhui, Sunday morning. Through Michael’s spotting scope I am enjoying a view of an endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting that he and Elaine found. As I watch, a Pechora Pipit jumps into the circular view and drives the bunting away. An endangered bunting being chased away by a scarce passage migrant! Wow! Then Michael calls out that he has just seen a raptor. The bird disappears, and we get into our rented Buick and drive toward the trees into which it vanished. As we drive, out jumps Large Hawk-Cuckoo! Three rare Shanghai records in the space of five minutes!

The view of Yellow Bunting was team birding at its best. We were driving slowly on the semi-abandoned low road discovered a few months back by Michael. (The starting point of this road, which leads inland from a point behind the Magic Parking Lot, is 30.885592, 121.967369.) As we drove, we were kicking up foraging buntings, mainly Black-faced Bunting. Elaine and I, sitting up front, were the first to notice an anomaly: a yellow-shaded bunting with a mustache and goatee. It had to be Yellow Bunting! The bird disappeared. Michael and Elaine were going for a lifer, so we had to work carefully. We stopped the car and walked up and down the road, six eyeballs searching for the rare migrant. Elaine found it! Michael and I came running. Luckily for us, the bunting had found a feeding area it liked; it was loath to leave the road. Michael was ecstatic as he set up his spotting scope and watched the bunting feed.

Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata is a rare passage migrant on the Chinese coast. The bunting breeds in Japan and winters mainly in the Philippines. Its numbers have declined much over the years. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata is a rare passage migrant on the Chinese coast. The bunting breeds in Japan and winters mainly in the Philippines. Its numbers have declined much over the years. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. (Craig Brelsford)

On Thurs. 28 April, Elaine and I did a quick walk-through at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. The park is more than a hundred years old, has many tall trees, and offers some of the best mid-sized urban-park birding in Earth’s largest city. Zhongshan holds sentimental value for me because it is where I ticked Elaine as a lifer (i.e., I met her there).

Our visit of less than two hours brought Elaine and me six passage migrants: Yellow-browed Warbler, Sakhalin/Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Tristram’s Bunting. A seventh, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, was reported by another birder.

The focal point at Zhongshan is the little central pond (31.224111, 121.414194). On Thursday all 3 Narcissus Flycatcher were noted there, among them a female, as well as our Eastern Crowned Warbler and Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. A tiny island in the center of the pond is almost cat-free (some cats do make the jump) and contains several large trees. Thanks to the nearly daily presence there of bird photographer Wāng Jìn Róng (汪进荣), the central pond is an information clearinghouse; Mr. Wang and his buddies are always eager to tell you what they have been seeing lately.

PHOTOS

Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016.
Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Yangshan Island, 30 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Chinese Egret, Nanhui, 30 April 2016.
Chinese Egret, Nanhui, 30 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Chestnut Bunting, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This colorful bunting breeds in the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Emberiza rutila winters in south China and Southeast Asia and is an uncommon passage migrant in the Shanghai region.
Chestnut Bunting, Nanhui, 1 May 2016. This colorful bunting breeds in the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Emberiza rutila winters in south China and Southeast Asia and is an uncommon passage migrant in the Shanghai region. (Craig Brelsford)
Microforest, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Beautiful daisies grace the forest floor. Vegetation is thick, the leaves have sprouted, and birds are many.
Microforest, Nanhui, Shanghai, 1 May 2016. Beautiful daisies grace the forest floor. Vegetation is thick, the leaves have sprouted, and birds are many. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Pechora Pipit perching on newly planted tree at Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 1 May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Asian Dowitcher Leads Shanghai Spring-Mig Birding Pageant!

On 21-24 April 2016, teaming up with Jan-Erik Nilsén and Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du and I noted 110 species. Our birding ranged from the inner city of Shanghai (Zhongshan Park, Century Park) to the coast at Cape Nanhui. The highlight of this spring-mig bird pageant was Asian Dowitcher at Nanhui. The dowitcher was in a pool that also held 11 Chinese Egret. Nanhui also gave us endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Far Eastern Curlew, and Great Knot and near-threatened Red Knot and Curlew Sandpiper. Among the other uncommon to scarce passage migrants were 4 Greater Sand Plover, 2 Pechora Pipit, 4 Brown-headed Thrush, 2 Siberian Blue Robin, 3 Siberian Rubythroat, and Citrine Wagtail. Joining them were 5 Terek Sandpiper, 3 Temminck’s Stint, 12 Long-toed Stint, 3 Eurasian Wryneck, 2 Eastern Crowned Warbler, 4 Japanese Thrush, 2 Eyebrowed Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher, 2 Blue-and-white Flycatcher, macronyx Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and 3 Tristram’s Bunting. We had impressive numbers (ca. 3180) of Barn Swallow, and picking through the clouds of hirundines we coaxed out 3 Pale/Sand Martin and 4 Red-rumped Swallow. Near-threatened Marsh Grassbird were singing in the reed bed at 30.866006, 121.939614. Near the grassbirds were Brown Crake, Reed Parrotbill, and Oriental Reed Warbler. A quick trip to Zhongshan Park on Thursday netted Narcissus Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and at Century Park on Friday we had Indian Cuckoo.

Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. The prominent wing bars, distinct stripes on mantle, and contrasting buffish breast and whitish belly are readily visible in my photos.
Pechora Pipit, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. The prominent wing bars, distinct stripes on mantle, and contrasting buffish breast and whitish belly are readily visible in my photos. (Craig Brelsford)

A Swede based in Beijing, Jan-Erik is an experienced birder and a friend. I have partnered with Jan-Erik in Qinghai (2014) and in Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia (2015). Last year he introduced me to the Beijing-area birding hot spots.

Among Jan-Erik’s many strengths is his ear. When the rain finally let up on Sunday, Jan-Erik and I were walking between microforests on the Nanhui sea wall. “Pechora Pipit!” Jan-Erik cried. On a windy day, Jan-Erik’s sensitive ear had detected the hard, clicking call of a distant Pechora. I missed this one, but my adrenaline was running, and I ran back to our rented Buick, driven by Elaine. I put together my 600 mm lens and Nikon D3S, which had lain dormant throughout the rainy Saturday and Sunday morning. “Record-shot time!” I said to my wife. Almost as soon as I had set up my camera, I found another Pechora atop a tree. I had not seen Pechora Pipit since 2010. Jan-Erik’s strong hearing skills made the rare view possible.

Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. This is quite a different bird from Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Note the dagger-like orange bill and blue-grey lores.
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. This is quite a different bird from Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Note the dagger-like orange bill and blue-grey lores. (Craig Brelsford)

The teamwork continued later that day. At the dowitcher spot (30.877779, 121.955465), Elaine, using the spotting scope and scanning the pond below us, cried out, “Dowitcher! Maybe Asian!” Elaine had never seen Asian Dowitcher, but Michael Grunwell’s fascination with this bird had prepared Elaine for the possibility of encountering the species. Jan-Erik and I ran back, and I enjoyed my first-ever views of the near-threatened species. Great spot, Elaine!

My two greatest birding mentors, Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén (R), photographed with me by my greatest birding partner, Elaine Du. Dishui Lake Metro Station, Shanghai, 23 April 2016.
My two greatest birding mentors, Michael Grunwell (L) and Jan-Erik Nilsén (R), photographed with me by my greatest birding partner, Elaine Du. Dishui Lake Metro Station, Shanghai, 23 April 2016. (Elaine Du)

Jan-Erik arrived late Thursday night. On Friday we did light birding at Century, noting 29 species. On Saturday and Sunday I had the pleasure of introducing Jan-Erik to Nanhui. We noted 99 species over the weekend, and we had the added pleasure of having Michael Grunwell join us Saturday. Despite the rain, I have rarely been happier birding than I was Saturday, for on that day the two birders who have taught me the most were finally in the same car together. Michael is a British birder who has been living in Shanghai since last year.

The bad weather kept us off Lesser Yangshan Island and dashed our hopes of visiting Hengsha Island. As darkness fell Saturday, we drove Michael to the Dishui Lake Metro Station. Jan-Erik, Elaine, and I spent the night at the Holiday Inn at Nanhui. This proved to be a good move, for staying at Nanhui saved me a 90-km drive back to the city after an exhausting day and put us in position for an early start Sunday. A sea-view room cost 500 yuan, money we considered well-invested.

PHOTOS

FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 2 May 2014. Elaine and I noted our seasonal-first Yellow-rumped at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai, on 21 April 2016. An East Asian favorite, Ficedula zanthopygia breeds in China from Heilongjiang south to Jiangsu. The male is beautiful.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 2 May 2014. Elaine and I noted our seasonal-first Yellow-rumped at Zhongshan Park, Shanghai, on 21 April 2016. An East Asian favorite, Ficedula zanthopygia breeds in China from Heilongjiang south to Jiangsu. The male is beautiful. (Craig Brelsford)
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Tristram's Bunting, Lesser Yangshan Island, 25 April 2013. Emberiza tristrami breeds in forests, and its preference for that sort of habitat is evident even on migration in places such as Shanghai. The species can be numerous in April in heavily forested urban parks such as Century, where we noted 11 individuals on 22 April 2016.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Tristram’s Bunting, Lesser Yangshan Island, 25 April 2013. Emberiza tristrami breeds in forests, and its preference for that sort of habitat is evident even on migration in places such as Shanghai. The species can be numerous in April in heavily forested urban parks such as Century, where we noted 11 individuals on 22 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Temminck's Stint, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 19 Sept. 2012. Calidris temminckii is a loner and prefers freshwater habitats. It is a passage migrant in the Shanghai region, and there are winter records. We noted 3 on 23 April 2016 at Nanhui, Shanghai.
FROM THE CRAIGBRELSFORD.COM ARCHIVES: Temminck’s Stint, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, 19 Sept. 2012. Calidris temminckii is a loner and prefers freshwater habitats. It is a passage migrant in the Shanghai region, and there are winter records. We noted 3 on 23 April 2016 at Nanhui, Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)
Brown-headed Thrush with (in top L panel) Eyebrowed Thrush and Black-faced Bunting. Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016.
Brown-headed Thrush with (in top L panel) Eyebrowed Thrush and Black-faced Bunting. Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Siberian Rubythroat, Nanhui, 24 April 2016.
Siberian Rubythroat, Nanhui, 24 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 24 April 2016 (79 species)

Birds noted 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 along Shijitang Road from 31.000204, 121.938145 S to 30.851114, 121.848527. Rainy in morning, then cloudy. Low 13° C, high 17° C. Wind ENE 21 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 139 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:15, sunset 18:29. SUN 24 APR 2016 05:45-13:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Jan-Erik Nilsén.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 17
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 3
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 13
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 11
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 4
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 5
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Lesser/Greater Sand Plover C. mongolous/leschenaultii 5
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 1
Common Snipe G. gallinago 15
Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 10
Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis 2
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 4
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 30
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 15
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 8
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 3
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 1
Red Knot C. canutus 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 60
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 4
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 5
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 1
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/L. v. mongolicus 1
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 14
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 3
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 1
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus 5
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 30
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 3000
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 3
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 1 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 20 singing
Marsh Grassbird Helopsaltes pryeri 3 singing
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 50
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 2
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 10
White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 1
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum 8
Japanese Thrush T. cardis 2
Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus 1
Pale Thrush T. pallidus 10
Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus 4
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris 3
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 2
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 2
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 3
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 100 (60 tschutschensis, 10 taivana, 1 macronyx)
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 2
White Wagtail M. alba 5 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5
Pechora Pipit A. gustavi 2
Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus 1
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 3
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata 3
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 40
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi 2

Featured image: Asian Dowitcher, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai, 24 April 2016. Listed as near-threatened by the IUCN, Limnodromus semipalmatus breeds in Siberia, Mongolia, and Heilongjiang and occurs on passage in the Shanghai area. (Craig Brelsford)

Chinese Egret & Singing Pale-legged Leaf Warbler on Yangshan

From Thurs. 14 April to Tues. 19 April 2016, Elaine and I combined inner-city birding (Century Park, Shanghai Botanical Garden) with suburban-coastal birding (Nanhui, Lesser Yangshan). We noted 102 species. Sun. 17 April was the big day, with 95 species noted. Among them were 2 Chinese Egret and 3 singing Pale-legged Leaf Warbler on Lesser Yangshan and Rufous-faced Warbler, Swinhoe’s Minivet, and near-threatened Curlew Sandpiper at Nanhui. Among our many firsts-of-season were 10 Narcissus Flycatcher, 4 Eastern Crowned Warbler, 2 members of the Arctic Warbler Complex, and Yellow-browed Bunting. With the spring migration rolling on strong, even the city parks gave us seasonal firsts, with Eurasian Woodcock and Blue-and-white Flycatcher at Century on Thursday and Eyebrowed Thrush Tuesday at the Botanical Garden. During the 6-day period, we noted 0 raptors, whether Accipitriform, Strigiform, or Falconiform.

When silent, as is most often the case in Shanghai even in spring, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler are indistinguishable, and a typical bird list this time of year includes the entry “Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes/borealoides.” The songs of these lookalikes are, however, distinct, and on Sunday in the wooded areas of Garbage Dump Valley on Lesser Yangshan we heard the cricket-like song of P. tenellipes. I made a recording (00:22; 1.7 MB):

On Tuesday, Elaine and I found a silent pair; they were moving along thick branches in the manner of a nuthatch and pumping their tail, but because they were not singing we could not ID them beyond Pale-legged/Sakhalin.

Garbage Dump Valley also yielded Meadow Bunting, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, and Manchurian/Japanese Bush Warbler, and Temple Mount gave us a single Goldcrest as well as Swinhoe’s/Pin-tailed Snipe.

On Sunday, Blue-and-white Flycatcher were noted in Garbage Dump Valley, on Temple Mount, and at Nanhui and on Thursday at Century. Each male was studied carefully so as not to miss Zappey’s Flycatcher, a recently recognized species that has been recorded in Shanghai (by Swedish birder Jocko Hammar in 2014). This spring, we Shanghai birders will do well to study each Blue-and-white Flycatcher carefully, in particular adult males, lest we miss Zappey’s. In Forktail No. 28, August 2012, Paul Leader and Geoff Carey write: “Males from populations that breed in central China [i.e., Zappey’s] are distinct from other populations in being blue or blue-green across the breast, throat and ear-coverts, and in having black or blackish restricted to the lores. … The upperparts are typically blue-green.” There are various other distinctions, not noted here.

For the first time we noted Marsh Grassbird north of the Magic Parking Lot/Holiday Inn at Nanhui. This new location is on the road leading into the reed bed and lined with street lamps. Another, larger location is 30.866006, 121.939614, a point 2.8 km S of the lock at Nanhui and 4.1 km S of the Magic Parking Lot/Holiday Inn. We discovered Helopsaltes pryeri at the southern location on 10 April and found them there again Sunday. 3 Reed Parrotbill were in the area, and Pallas’s Reed Bunting, so numerous just a few weeks ago, were nearly absent, most of them having departed for breeding areas north.

The Chinese Egret were our reward for never failing to scrutinize groups of Little Egret. Sure enough, our Egretta eulophotes were associating with 3 E. garzetta on a taut anchor line tethering a boat to the bottom of a little bay along Gangchi Road (30.612507, 122.105993). We are not sure whether our view is a one-off or whether something about that bay is attractive to that species.

Little Curlew, Lesser Yangshan Island, 17 April 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.
Little Curlew, Lesser Yangshan Island, 17 April 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.

At the Accidental (and probably Temporary) Wetland on Lesser Yangshan, we found the 2 Little Curlew, 1 of our 2 Garganey, Purple Heron, Black-tailed Godwit, 1 of our 6 Pacific Swift, 18 of our 80 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, 2 Red-rumped Swallow, and Oriental Reed Warbler. Accidental Marsh sits on land reclaimed when a causeway was built linking Lesser Yangshan and Dazhitou Island. The coordinates of this spot are 30.611902, 122.114873. Bird this spot while the birding is good!

On Thurs. 14 April, Elaine and I birded Century Park, noting 31 species. 2 Eurasian Woodcock were seen in the forested area near Gate 7 known as “Woodcock Forest” (31.215413, 121.547678). There were impressive flocks of Brambling, 72 in all. Other highlights: Eurasian Hoopoe 1, Pale Thrush 23, White’s Thrush 2, and Chinese Blackbird 40, among them 2 fledglings.

The encounter with the woodcocks occurred just a few meters from the point where Elaine and I found this species last 30 Oct. Woodcock Forest is usually devoid of humans, and forest species tend to pool there. For best results, tiptoe in and scan silently. Do not forget to look into the canopy; I have seen sparrowhawks there.

We found no Yellow-bellied Tit, the only leaf warbler we found was a single Yellow-browed Warbler, and we thought low our count of just 1 Grey-backed Thrush. There were no other flycatchers besides the Blue-and-white.

As I have noted many times before, thieves are active at Century. On Thursday I had the unusual experience of thief-watching. Two folks were sitting on a park bench looking out over the lake. Elaine and I were standing far behind and noticed an ugly man in ratty clothing approach the couple from the forest behind them. He was moving in a catlike manner and was either casing the couple or was about to snatch something. I moved in noisily, and he slunk off.

This thief and others in his gang must be skillful, otherwise they wouldn’t have operated in the park so long. Their booty is phones, wallets, and purses, their victims distracted persons relaxing in the park. To avoid falling prey, keep your phone zipped in your pocket, leave nothing lying around, and use your powers of observation honed through birding to assess the people around you.

On Tues. 19 April, a walk through the Shanghai Botanical Garden netted Elaine and me 28 species. 2 Japanese Tit fledglings were following their parents and making begging calls, 4 Common Sandpiper were in Zhāngjiātáng Hé (张家塘河), and White’s Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, Pale Thrush, and Eyebrowed Thrush were found in a quiet wooded area (31.147780, 121.438917) along the stream.

Sunday marked the reunion of the five-member Dream Team after a winter hiatus. Husband-wife members Stephan and Xueping Popp took many fine shots, and Stephan once again performed skillfully behind the wheel. Senior Birder Michael Grunwell combined sober experience with boyish enthusiasm, the latter particularly in evidence when he beheld Narcissus Flycatcher, a lifer for him. Elaine Du did her usual fine job keeping the list. Though I’m making a quick recovery from my intercostal muscle strain suffered 10 April, still I traveled light, eschewing photography and using only binoculars.

PHOTOS

Purple Heron, Lesser Yangshan Island, 17 April 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.
Purple Heron, Lesser Yangshan Island, 17 April 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.
Rufous-faced Warbler, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 17 April 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.
Rufous-faced Warbler, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 17 April 2016. © 2016 by Stephan Popp & Xueping Popp.

Featured image: Elaine Du (L) and Xueping Popp scan for leaf warblers in Garbage Dump Valley on Lesser Yangshan Island, Zhejiang, China, Sun. 17 April 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Oriental Plover Highlight 103-Species Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singing White’s Thrush at Century Park

On Thurs. 7 April 2016, my wife Elaine Du and I noted 30 species at Century Park. For the first time in my life, I heard White’s Thrush sing. Many of the wintering species were still very much present, among them 40 Pale Thrush. Bird Island, the sanctuary within a sanctuary in the middle of the park, once again proved its worth, yielding 1 of our 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker as well as all our 18 Oriental Turtle Dove plus Chinese Pond Heron and Grey Heron. One of our Red-flanked Bluetail was a beautiful blue adult male, and we found migrating Stejneger’s Stonechat. Dusky Thrush, 63 of which we found on our last visit on 15 March, have left the park, and we found no Grey-backed Thrush.

Elaine Du updates the day list in a quiet area of Century Park, 7 April 2016. The recent rains were bringing forth an earthy odor from the forest floor, some of the flowers were fragrant, and in this scrubby area the herbs we trod on were giving off spicy scents.
Elaine Du updates the day list in a quiet area of Century Park, 7 April 2016. The recent rains were bringing forth an earthy odor from the forest floor, some of the flowers were fragrant, and in this scrubby area the herbs we trod on were giving off spicy scents. (Craig Brelsford)

On an overcast, quiet weekday that according to the guards at Gate 7 saw the 140-hectare park attract only 2500 visitors, Elaine and I soaked in the peaceful atmosphere. The recent rains brought forth an earthy odor from the forest floor, some of the wildflowers were fragrant, and the herbs we trod on gave off spicy scents.

So quiet was the park that we actually were able to listen to birdsong for sustained amounts of time. Chinese Blackbird, Light-vented Bulbul, and Azure-winged Magpie, the Big 3 residents of Century, created a river of sound, supplemented by some Chinese Grosbeak.

Amid that flow, and with the low rumble being made by the traffic on Huamu Road, I picked out a sound that was definitely being made by a bird but was unlike any I had heard before. It was a one-note, drawn-out, plaintive whistle, haunting and beautiful, with pauses of several seconds in between. Mesmerized, I walked toward the sound, which was coming from the canopy. The song suddenly stopped, and out flew a White’s Thrush. The whole episode was over in a minute or two, and I had not made a recording. But while the memory of the song was still fresh, I played back recordings of the song of White’s that I have on my iPhone. There was no doubt. The song Elaine and I heard and the song on my phone were the same.

We met a man who recently retired from China Customs and is familiar with Western culture. This smart fellow says he exercises at Century every day and that so-called Bird Island (31.217405, 121.554936) is devoid of special birds. “鸟岛无鸟,” he said. I knew he was wrong, but I let it go, because appreciating Bird Island requires more knowledge of birds than this gentleman was likely interested in acquiring. He could not see that while Spotted Dove, a “city” bird, are numerous throughout the park as well as in the deepest parts of the inner-city jungle, Oriental Turtle Dove, a more “country” bird, rely greatly on Bird Island. In winter, hundreds of White-cheeked Starling and Red-billed Starling roost on trees on and around the island, and I have seen Mandarin Duck on its shores. Great Spotted Woodpecker, rare in Shanghai, are found there regularly. I have not set foot on Bird Island since 2009, but that’s fine with me because it is possible with binoculars to peer into its forest, and in any case I agree with the principle of Bird Island, which is to confine human beings and cats to the mainland side of its protective moat.

The ticket-takers at Gate 7 told us some interesting facts. Last Monday was Qingming, an important national holiday, and with the fine weather that day, Century received 50,000 visitors. On a typical Saturday or Sunday, they told us, 30,000 to 40,000 visitors pack the Pudong park.

Related Link: Have you viewed our recently created page, Birds Recorded at Century Park? There you can view all the species of bird recorded at urban Shanghai’s most birdable park.

Featured image: Shanghai Birding’s Elaine Du searches for Great Spotted Woodpecker on Bird Island, visible across the water. The miniature nature reserve in Century Park remains out of reach of cats (and humans) and teems with birds. (Craig Brelsford)