Studying Northeast China Woodland Birds in Elaine’s Hometown

From 26 May 2016 to last Sunday (12 June), Elaine Du and I were in her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang. We birded 15 of those days, mainly around Xidaquan National Forest, and noted 84 species. Our bird of the trip was Band-bellied Crake, and we found breeding Eurasian Eagle-Owl. We noted in full breeding mode many birds that we had previously known only as passage migrants in Shanghai; we enjoyed for the first time the songs of Siberian Blue Robin, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, White-throated Rock Thrush, Siberian Thrush, and many other species.

In this post, you will get an introduction to Boli and eastern Heilongjiang, you will discover the birds we met up there at the height of the breeding season, you will learn about the birds we missed, and you will find out how Elaine and I combine birding with family. There are as well 31 of my sound-recordings of Boli birds and plenty of photos.

For the full report on our spring 2016 trip, including daily lists and a master list detailing where and when we encountered each species, click here. For the report on Elaine’s and my first two trips together to her hometown, click here.

Why Should Birders Care about Boli?

Silver Birch Grove (白桦林), one of the attractions of Xidaquan National Forest in Boli County, Heilongjiang.
Silver Birch Grove (白桦林), one of the attractions of Xidaquan National Forest in Boli County, Heilongjiang.

Boli County is a good place to study the woodland birds of the eastern Palearctic. Its forests, remnants of the ancient northern temperate forest that once stretched unbroken across the region, hold northern species absent further south in China. In springtime, Boli County is the breeding home of birds that in the more densely populated southern regions of China appear only as passage migrants or winter visitors.

Background

Boli County lies within the Amur Basin of Northeast China. It is part of Qitaihe Prefecture in eastern Heilongjiang, not far from the Sino-Russian border. Map courtesy Wikipedia.
Boli County lies within the Amur Basin of Northeast China. It is part of Qitaihe Prefecture in eastern Heilongjiang, not far from the Sino-Russian border. Map courtesy Wikipedia.

In January 2015 Elaine and I were married in Dawucun, where Elaine was born. During breaks in the festivities, I explored the frozen country. Expecting to find only magpies and sparrows, I was pleasantly surprised to find forested hills near the village and good birds such as Rough-legged Buzzard. I vowed to return and bird the area thoroughly.

In August and September 2015, Elaine and I fulfilled that goal. During a 32-day visit to her hometown, Elaine and I discovered Xidaquan National Forest, a 9,400-hectare reserve in the Laoye Mountains. Xidaquan preserves a remnant of the northern temperate forest that once covered the region. We were thoroughly impressed and made plans to bird the area yet again, this time during breeding season. The trip described here is the realization of that plan.

For Elaine and me, birding trips to Boli are special because they combine Northeast China birding with family. Elaine is never happier than when she is with her parents and two elder sisters, and I not only like her family but also appreciate the opportunity they give me to learn about Chinese culture.

Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.
Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.

Like many residents of the Northeast, Elaine is descended from migrants who chuǎng Guāndōng (闯关东)–“leapt” north, mainly from Hebei and Shandong, to farm areas of Guandong (Manchuria) formerly closed to Han Chinese settlement. In Elaine’s case, the settlers were her parents, who left Shandong in the 1970s.

The settlement of the Northeast by Han farmers is a major event in Chinese history, like the settling of the West is to Americans. The transformation the migration has wrought on the land has been profound. In eastern Heilongjiang, the toil of thousands of farmers has converted the land from an endless forest into a vast maize field. Where tigers once roared, magpies now caw.

Amid the sea of grain fields are islands of the old Manchurian forest. One of the best is Xidaquan National Forest, just 25 km from Boli Town. After our discovery of Xidaquan in the summer of 2015, we turned it into our laboratory in which to study the birds of the eastern Palearctic woodlands. We have now spent 20 days birding in the reserve–12 days in summer 2015 and eight days in spring 2016.

Key Birds

Streamside habitat at Xidaquan, 28 May 2016. Gray's Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler use the thick vegetation along the unseen stream. Siberian Rubythroat and Thick-billed Warbler forage among the scrubby plants in the foreground. Common Cuckoo and Oriental Cuckoo call, and Dusky Warbler sing. Eastern Buzzard soar overhead.
Streamside habitat at Xidaquan, 28 May 2016. Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler use the thick vegetation along the unseen stream. Siberian Rubythroat and Thick-billed Warbler forage among the scrubby plants in the foreground. Common Cuckoo and Oriental Cuckoo call, and Dusky Warbler sing. Eastern Buzzard soar overhead.

A birder led blindfolded through southwestern Boli County in spring would be able to tell the quality of the forest by the birds he heard. The pine plantations are nearly silent. In recently cut areas where the forest has just begun to regenerate, one may hear a few Eastern Crowned Warbler, Radde’s Warbler, and Black-faced Bunting. If a layer of undergrowth has formed, then one may hear in addition to those species Thick-billed Warbler, Siberian Blue Robin, and Siberian Rubythroat. In places where most of the trees are hardwoods and have reached about 10 m in height, the sound of birdsong is constant throughout the day. Pale Thrush sing powerfully from perches hidden in the canopy, Yellow-throated Bunting sing from treetops and defend territory, Willow Tit, Coal Tit, and Japanese Tit sing their lively Parid songs, and White-throated Rock Thrush whistle in a minor key. The best places at Xidaquan are yet another cut above, being able to support the species mentioned above as well as more habitat-sensitive species such as Mandarin Duck, Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Lanceolated Warbler, Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, and White’s Thrush.

The following is a list of the key birds noted by Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du in spring 2016 in Boli County.

Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii

Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty. As soon as it called, I knew we had struck gold; I pulled out the camera and went to work. Nikon D3S, VR 600mm F/4G, F/9, 1/1000, ISO 1600.
Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty. As soon as it called, I knew we had struck gold; I pulled out the camera and went to work. Nikon D3S, VR 600mm F/4G, F/9, 1/1000, ISO 1600.

Our bird of the trip, found 8-9 June 2016 in a creek bottom in the Hongwei Linchang area 12 km south of Boli Town. A rare and little-known species, Band-bellied Crake is listed as near threatened by the IUCN. Band-bellied Crake breeds in Northeast China and the Russian Far East. It is threatened by habitat loss in its Southeast Asia wintering grounds as well as in Northeast China.

Band-bellied Crake, Hongwei Linchang, Boli, 9 June 2016 (00:26; 2.6 MB)

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo

We found a breeding pair with two owlets nesting at the high, inaccessible reaches of the big quarry at Jiulong Reservoir, where we also spotted the species in summer 2015. The giant owls are tolerant of the traffic from the road, and at a second, smaller quarry nearby, they tolerate noise from a busy poultry farm below. The owls perch conspicuously by day and are active in the villages at night. In summer 2015, eagle-owls would perch at night on the buildings of Elaine’s parents’ farm.

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata

Mandarin Duck atop a shed, 28 May 2016.
Mandarin Duck atop a shed, 28 May 2016.

Deep in the forests of Xidaquan, we found Mandarin Duck in ponds no larger than a kiddie pool. This shy species was also found on the large pond near the entrance to Xidaquan, in rice paddies in the villages, and in flocks in Jiulong Reservoir. In spring 2016 we recorded this species on eight of our 15 birding days and in summer 2015 on seven of our 27 birding days. Boli County is the heart of the Northeast China breeding range of this most beautiful of ducks.

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius

A graceful woodpecker and one of the stars of the Northeast Chinese forest, noted by us on three days in spring 2016 and on 11 days in summer 2015.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos. Female in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos. Female in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.

The most commonly noted Dendrocopos woodpecker, noted on 10 days in summer 2015 and six days in spring 2016.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor

Trans-Eurasian species, in China present only in Xinjiang and the Northeast. Noted by us just once in spring 2016. More conspicuous in summer 2015 (seen on six days) and winter 2015 (three days).

Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus

Noted on nine of our birding days, exclusively in the better forests around Xidaquan. Has softer version of the “Brain fever!” call of Large Hawk-Cuckoo.

Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (01:06; 3.4 MB)

Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus

Noted on eight days in Boli County in spring 2016. None of our records came from the higher-quality, higher-elevation forest deep in Xidaquan park but from the lower-quality, newer forests closer to the villages.

Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus

In contrast to Indian Cuckoo, in spring 2016 most of our records of Oriental Cuckoo, spanning 13 days, came from the deep forests of Xidaquan.

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

We heard the famous call of Common Cuckoo on 13 days. Most records came from open areas or from forested places near open areas.

Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus jotaka

We enjoyed pre-dawn views of this species roosting on County Road Z002 and heard its clattering call both at dawn and dusk.

Grey Nightjar calling at dawn, Blue-and-white Flycatcher in background, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (00:31; 2 MB)

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius brandtii

Cinnamon-headed ssp. brandtii is a treat for birders in Northeast China (also occurs in Xinjiang). Resident and conspicuous in all seasons.

Coal Tit Periparus ater ater

If this bird looks familiar to European birders, it's because it's the same nominate race of Coal Tit found in Continental Europe. Photo taken in hills S of Boli Town on 7 June 2016.
If this bird looks familiar to European birders, it’s because it’s the same nominate race of Coal Tit found in Continental Europe. Photo taken in hills S of Boli Town on 7 June 2016.

The trans-Eurasian, small-crested, nominate race (ater) is the representative of Coal Tit in Northeast China. Resident, regularly noted in small numbers, often in conifers.

Coal Tit 1/2, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (00:15; 2.2 MB)

Coal Tit 2/2, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (00:05; 1.7 MB)

Willow Tit Poecile montanus baicalensis

Versatile Willow Tit, resident in Boli County, flourishes in habitats ranging from scrubby new forest growth to primary forest. Noted on three days in winter 2015, 21 in summer 2015, and 11 in spring 2016.

Willow Tit, territorial call, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (00:14; 2.1 MB)

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus caudatus

The snowball-headed nominate ssp. ranges from Scandinavia east through Heilongjiang to Jilin. It lives year-round in Boli County. We noted it on seven days in spring 2016, on two days in winter 2015, and on 14 days in summer 2015. In late summer and winter it is often the main component of bird waves.

Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus

Eastern Crowned Warbler, Xidaquan National Forest, 29 May 2016.
Eastern Crowned Warbler, Xidaquan National Forest, 29 May 2016.

The most conspicuous leaf warbler in Boli. Noted by us on 10 days in summer 2015 and on 14 of our 15 birding days in spring 2016. Sings a diverse array of songs from dawn to dusk. In 2015 was singing and defending territory into mid-August, and non-singing individuals were noted as late as 3 Sept. Found in habitats mediocre as well as pristine.

Eastern Crowned Warbler 1/2, hills S of Dawucun, 5 June 2016 (00:04; 1.7 MB)

Eastern Crowned Warbler 2/2, Xidaquan, 29 May 2016 (00:40, 2.4 MB)

Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi

Radde's Warbler is a powerful singer and among the most conspicuous birds at Xidaquan National Forest.
Radde’s Warbler is a powerful singer and among the most conspicuous birds at Xidaquan National Forest.

Second only to Eastern Crowned Warbler as the most conspicuous leaf warbler, with a powerful song that belies its small size. Noted regularly in summer 2015 (10 days) and spring 2016 (12 days), mostly in the better forest and forest-edge habitat at Xidaquan.

Radde’s Warbler, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016 (02:51; 7.6 MB)

Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus

Noted on 10 days in spring 2016 and nine in summer 2015. Has less powerful song than Radde’s, lacking trills, and unlike Radde’s avoids deep forest. Often sings from conspicuous perch in high tree.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes

Recorded on nine days in spring 2016. Heard singing and seen defending territory. Usually found in the high canopy or middle canopy in the better sections of forest at Xidaquan. Elaine and I did not note this species in Boli in summer 2015.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Xidaquan, 10 June 2016 (02:00, 6.4 MB)

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus

Noted on nine days in spring 2016 and on 12 days in summer 2015. In both seasons was usually noted singing loudly from the top of the tallest tree in the vicinity.

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, hills S of Dawucun, 4 June 2016 (01:47; 5.1 MB)

Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis

Oriental Reed Warbler is known to be able to use marshy habitat with woody plants rather than reeds. As reeds are rare in the areas we bird in Boli County, our Oriental Reed Warbler were found among woody plants. Found on four days in spring 2016, mainly on the shore of Jiulong Reservoir.

Oriental Reed Warbler, Jiulong Reservoir, 10 June 2016 (00:06; 1.8 MB)

Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Noted on three days in spring 2016, with a high of 28 singing individuals being found 11 June along County Road Z002. Noted once in summer 2015.

Black-browed Reed Warbler, creek along County Road Z002, 11 June 2016 (01:40; 4.8 MB)

Thick-billed Warbler Iduna aedon

Thick-billed Warbler, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.
Thick-billed Warbler, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.

Noted on six days in spring 2016, in very good habitat at Xidaquan as well as more disturbed areas along the shore of Jiulong Reservoir.

Thick-billed Warbler, Xidaquan, 29 May 2016 (00:32; 2.1 MB)

Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata

Noted on six days in spring 2016, singing from thick cover in heavily wooded habitat along creeks at Xidaquan.

Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler Helopsaltes fasciolata

Gray's Grasshopper Warbler on rare foray out of undergrowth. Xidaquan, 29 May 2016.
Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler on rare foray out of undergrowth. Xidaquan, 29 May 2016.

In spring 2016 we heard the bulbul-like call of this undergrowth skulker on seven days, exclusively in the high-quality habitat at Xidaquan.

Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (01:05; 3.4 MB)

Siberian Thrush Geokichla sibirica

Siberian Thrush, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.
Siberian Thrush, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.

Noted by us on five days in spring 2016, each time in high-quality forest at Xidaquan. Noted twice in summer 2015. Sings from conspicuous perch at top of tall tree.

Below is a recording of Siberian Thrush on a typical morning at Xidaquan. In the background you can hear Oriental Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, Radde’s Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler.

Siberian Thrush, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016 (00:51; 2.8 MB)

White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea

One of the rewards for waking early was hearing the monotonous, ventriloquial song of White’s Thrush. It normally calls unseen from deep within the forest and goes silent about an hour after sunrise. One morning Elaine and I saw this most secretive bird climb a tall tree and utter its mysterious call. The first, lower note was apparently hummed through its closed or barely open mouth, while for the high note the thrush gaped wide. At a location nearby I witnessed the ventriloquy. The low note seemed to be coming from a place to my right, while the high note seemed to be coming from a place in front of me. Only after a few minutes did I realize that a single unseen White’s Thrush was uttering both notes.

White’s Thrush, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (01:43; 4.9 MB)

Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum

This East Asian endemic was noted on nine days in spring 2016, singing and defending territory. Also noted on two days in summer 2015.

Grey-backed Thrush, hills S of Boli Town, 7 June 2016 (08:17; 21.4 MB)

Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus

Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and five days in summer 2015. Shy. Sings powerfully from unseen perches deep in the forest. At dawn and dusk sometimes seen foraging on the roadside.

Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana

We found Mark Brazil’s description of the breeding habitat to be apt: “ … in forested mountains, generally in mature mixed broadleaf forest with dense undergrowth, often near streams … ” (Birds of East Asia). Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and on two days in summer 2015.

Blue-and-white Flycatcher, broadleaf forest near Xidaquan, 27 May 2016 (01:30; 4.4 MB)

Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane

Noted on 12 days in spring 2016, with a high of 21 individuals on 2 June. Its song, delivered from deep cover, consists of a burst of sound followed by a pause and buildup then another burst, each burst distinct from the other.

Siberian Blue Robin, Xidaquan, 2 June 2016 (02:42; 7.2 MB)

Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans

Noted on seven days in spring 2016, all records except one coming from deep cover along thickly vegetated creeks at Xidaquan. Song a descending trill.

Rufous-tailed Robin, Xidaquan, 28 May 2016 (01:01; 3.2 MB)

Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope

Siberian Rubythroat singing on utility wire, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.
Siberian Rubythroat singing on utility wire, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016.

Noted on four days in spring 2016 and on one day in summer 2015. Usually hides in undergrowth, but at dawn and for a few hours thereafter may be seen singing from an exposed perch.

Siberian Rubythroat, Xidaquan, 28 May 2016 (02:20; 6.4 MB)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia

Sings a long, slow, deliberate, and loud song somewhat like that of Blue-and-white Flycatcher. Noted on 12 days in spring 2016.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, hills S of Dawucun, 5 June 2016 (00:58; 3.1 MB)

White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis

I learned the call of this East Asian specialty by doggedly following a bird that was singing and moving unseen in the canopy above me. Finally the secretive singer allowed me to glimpse him, and only then could I confirm that he was White-throated Rock Thrush. Noted on three days in spring 2016 and once in summer 2015.

White-throated Rock Thrush, Hongwei Linchang, 7 June 2016 (01:04; 4.1 MB)

Long-tailed Rosefinch Carpodacus sibiricus ussuriensis

Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and four days each in winter and summer 2015.

Meadow Bunting
Emberiza cioides weigoldi

Resident, recorded by us in winter, summer, and spring (five days in spring 2016). Seen at edges of farmland and in open areas near forests. Never in deep forests.

Meadow Bunting, forest edge at Dawucun, 31 May 2016 (00:58; 3.1 MB)

Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami

Forest bunting, with some association with conifers, commonly seen along the forest roads. Noted on eight days in spring 2016 and six days in summer 2015.

Tristram’s Bunting, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016 (00:11; 1.2 MB)

Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans

Forest bunting with a preference for deciduous habitats. Sings loudly and aggressively defends territory. Noted on nine days in spring 2016 and on 16 days in summer 2015.

Yellow-throated Bunting 1/2, song, hills S of Boli Town, 5 June 2016 (00:12; 1.3 MB)

Yellow-throated Bunting 2/2, alarm call, hills S of Dawucun, 7 June 2016 (00:50; 3.6 MB)

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala spodocephala

Black-faced Bunting, Xidaquan, May 2016. In spring, the song of this bunting is one of the most common bird sounds in the region.
Black-faced Bunting, Xidaquan, May 2016. In spring, the song of this bunting is one of the most common bird sounds in the region.

One of the most commonly noted birds in Boli, found on 14 days in spring 2016 and 12 days in summer 2015. Versatile, often at forest edge but also in areas with fewer trees.

Black-faced Bunting, Xidaquan, 30 May 2016 (00:44; 2.5 MB)

Species of Bird Noted in Boli County, Heilongjiang, May-June 2016 (84 species)

Mandarin Duck
Mallard
Eastern Spot-billed Duck
Common Pheasant
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Crested Honey Buzzard
Northern Goshawk
Eastern Buzzard
Band-bellied Crake
Little Ringed Plover
Common Sandpiper
Hill Pigeon
Oriental Turtle Dove
Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo
Indian Cuckoo
Oriental Cuckoo
Common Cuckoo
Eurasian Eagle-Owl
Grey Nightjar
White-throated Needletail
Oriental Dollarbird
Common Kingfisher
Eurasian Wryneck
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
White-backed Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
Common Kestrel
Eurasian Hobby
Ashy Minivet
Brown Shrike
Chinese Grey Shrike
Eurasian Jay
Azure-winged Magpie
Eurasian Magpie
Spotted Nutcracker
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Coal Tit
Willow Tit
Japanese Tit
Barn Swallow
Asian House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Long-tailed Tit
Dusky Warbler
Radde’s Warbler
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
Arctic Warbler
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Oriental Reed Warbler
Black-browed Reed Warbler
Thick-billed Warbler
Lanceolated Warbler
Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler
Chestnut-flanked White-eye
Eurasian Nuthatch
Siberian Thrush
White’s Thrush
Grey-backed Thrush
Pale Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Blue-and-white Flycatcher
Siberian Blue Robin
Rufous-tailed Robin
Siberian Rubythroat
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
Daurian Redstart
White-throated Rock Thrush
Stejneger’s Stonechat
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Siberian Accentor
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Olive-backed Pipit
Hawfinch
Long-tailed Rosefinch
Grey-capped Greenfinch
Meadow Bunting
Tristram’s Bunting
Chestnut-eared Bunting
Yellow-throated Bunting
Black-faced Bunting

Birds We Missed

The deep forest at Xidaquan. This seemingly stable environment shows a very different set of birds according to the season. In the area where this photo was taken, in August and September 2015 Elaine and I found Eurasian Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Yellow-browed Warbler. We saw none of those species in May and June 2016. Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, White's Thrush, and Lanceolated Warbler were in the same area in spring 2016.
The deep forest at Xidaquan. This seemingly stable environment shows a very different set of birds according to the season. In the area where this photo was taken, in August and September 2015 Elaine and I found Eurasian Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Yellow-browed Warbler. We saw none of those species in May and June 2016. Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, White’s Thrush, and Lanceolated Warbler were in the same area in spring 2016.

The forests of Boli County change markedly from season to season. On our brief initial trip in January 2015, winter visitors such as Common Redpoll, Eurasian Bullfinch, and Pallas’s Rosefinch were scraping out a living in the snowy, barren forests. In late summer bird waves are common, in springtime virtually non-existent. Late summer shows few birds in breeding mode but offers passage migrants. In springtime the songs of breeding birds resound.

Birds seen in one season may not be seen in another. In some cases, as with Hazel Grouse, it is easy to understand why. In other cases, the reason is less clear. Other birds, such as Red-flanked Bluetail, that one would expect in the region have yet to appear on any of our lists. Here are some of the birds we missed on our spring 2016 trip.

Hazel Grouse: On our summer 2015 expedition, Elaine and I noted this species on 10 days, both in the excellent habitat of Xidaquan and in the lower-quality forest in the hills south of Dawucun. We noted no Hazel Grouse in spring 2016. The grouse were breeding and had retired to the quiet recesses of the forest with their young.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Common in much of China, noted just once by Elaine and me in summer 2015 and not at all in spring 2016. Its congener White-backed Woodpecker is common in the area.

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker: Scarce species noted by us once at Xidaquan in summer 2015. Missed in spring 2016.

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker: Rufous-bellied Woodpecker ssp. subrufinus is reported in eastern Heilongjiang, as is Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. Neither has been found by us around Boli.

Black-naped Oriole: A species yet to be noted by us in Boli.

Azure Tit: This unmistakable tit has been reported around Lake Khanka, on the Sino-Russian border east of Boli County. We have yet to see the species in Boli.

Marsh Tit: Race brevirostris noted by us on 13 days in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

Manchurian Bush Warbler, Baikal Bush Warbler, Chinese Bush Warbler: Yet to be noted by us in Boli.

Asian Stubtail: Noted on four days in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

Manchurian Reed Warbler: We made a point to look for this bird, paying careful attention to the Black-browed Reed Warbler we were finding. No luck.

Yellow-browed Warbler: In spring 2016 we were expecting big counts of this species, having noted it on nine days in summer 2015. We noted it not once in spring 2016. It most likely does not breed in the area and was passing through the region in August and September 2015.

Arctic Warbler: Also apparently a passage migrant at Xidaquan. In spring 2016 we had but one record of a singing individual at Xidaquan. In summer 2015 we had two records.

Two-barred Warbler: Yet another apparent passage migrant. Noted on four days in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

Red-flanked Bluetail: Surprise! We have yet to record this species in Boli County.

Eurasian Treecreeper: Noted by us four times in summer 2015, zero times in spring 2016.

The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.
The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.

List of Place Names

Boli: name that may refer to either Boli County or Boli Town.

Boli County (Bólì Xiàn [勃利县]): jurisdiction in Qitaihe Prefecture, SE Heilongjiang. Area: 3,962 sq. km. Pop.: 370,000.

Boli Town (Bólì Zhèn [勃利镇]): urbanized area in & administrative center of Boli County. 45.752960, 130.579479.

Changbai Mountains (Chángbái Shān [长白山]): range running from SE Heilongjiang S to North Korea. Laoye Mountains near Boli are part of Changbai Mountains.

Dawucun (Dàwǔcūn [大五村]): village in Boli County, Qitaihe Prefecture, Heilongjiang, 3 km from Boli Town. Birthplace of Elaine Du. 45.732679, 130.589612.

Heilongjiang (Hēilóngjiāng [黑龙江]): province NE China. Area: 454,800 sq. km. Area (comparative): slightly larger than Sweden & California. Pop.: 38.3 million.

Hongwei Linchang (Hóngwěi Línchǎng [宏伟林场]): area in Boli County S of Boli Town. Important birding spot at 45.638703, 130.547478.

Jiamusi (Jiāmùsī Shì [佳木斯市]): prefecture-level city E Heilongjiang.

Jiulong Reservoir (Jiǔlóng Shuǐkù [九龙水库]): reservoir in Boli County S of Boli Town. 45.706874, 130.517068.

Laoye Mountains (Lǎoye Lǐng [老爷岭]): offshoot of Changbai Mountains. Xidaquan National Forest is in the Laoye Mountains.

Qitaihe (Qītáihé Shì [七台河市]): prefecture E Heilongjiang of which Boli County is a part. Area: 6,221 sq. km. Pop.: 920,000.

Xidaquan National Forest (Xīdàquān Guójiā Sēnlín Gōngyuán [西大圈国家森林公园]): forest reserve in Boli County, Heilongjiang. 45.727751, 130.317316.

Main gate to Xidaquan National Forest, 2 June 2016.
Main gate to Xidaquan National Forest, 2 June 2016.

Selected Bibliography

Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Co-first reference (along with Collins Bird Guide) in Northeast China.

Brelsford, Craig. A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China. (Work in progress; notes and drafts in Craig’s laptop. Please help us create this field guide by making a donation.)

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

Kennerley, Peter & David Pearson. Reed and Bush Warblers. Christopher Helm.

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

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

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

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

Mullarney, Killian, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterström, Peter Grant. Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins. Co-first reference (along with Birds of East Asia) in Northeast China.

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

Elaine's niece Lisa Li (R) tries out Elaine's Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 binoculars while her aunt shows her a quartet of Little Ringed Plover in the fields behind Dawucun, 31 May 2016.
Elaine’s niece Lisa Li (R) tries out Elaine’s Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 binoculars while her aunt shows her a quartet of Little Ringed Plover in the fields behind Dawucun, 31 May 2016.

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: Drake Mandarin Duck, found in a small pool deep in the forest at Xidaquan National Forest on 1 June 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.

Rainy, Quiet Nanhui

Elaine Du and I noted 86 species over the rainy weekend of 7-8 May 2016. We had White-shouldered Starling, Siberian Blue Robin, and Chestnut Bunting on Lesser Yangshan Island and Chinese Egret, Black-faced Spoonbill, and Curlew Sandpiper at Nanhui. I got my best view of Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Nanhui, and on Yangshan our partner Michael Grunwell got his best view of Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. Other passage migrants were Brown Shrike, Eyebrowed Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, and season’s first Dark-sided Flycatcher at Nanhui and Blue-and-white Flycatcher on Lesser Yangshan.

9 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill make use of a pond a stone's throw from the sea-wall road at Nanhui. The rainy day depressed the numbers of tourists and made Nanhui quieter, giving these sub-adults a much-needed opportunity to chill out.
9 endangered Black-faced Spoonbill make use of a pond a stone’s throw from the sea-wall road at Nanhui. The rainy day depressed the numbers of tourists and made Nanhui quieter, giving these sub-adults a much-needed opportunity to chill out.

The nearly constant rain made birding challenging but had its good points. While depressing our bird count, especially on Sunday (just 62 species), the rain also depressed the number of visitors, giving Nanhui its former wild feel. The lack of tourists and their vehicles on Sunday allowed 9 Black-faced Spoonbill to exploit a good pond just a stone’s throw from the usually busy sea-wall road. The spoonbills, all sub-adults in non-breeding plumage, noted our car and went back to feeding. On that same pond on Saturday, we captured in a single photograph 6 birds representing five species: 2 Black-faced Spoonbill plus Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, and Chinese Egret.

6 Birds, 5 Species, 1 Photo: Top: Black-faced Spoonbill. Bottom, L-R: Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Chinese Egret.
6 Birds, 5 Species, 1 Photo: Top: Black-faced Spoonbill. Bottom, L-R: Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Chinese Egret.

Though rainy, the weather Sunday was not windy; the lack of wind plus lack of cars made Nanhui quiet and good for sound-recording. I got a particularly good recording of Black-browed Reed Warbler and Oriental Reed Warbler. Note the more slowly delivered, more powerful song of the much larger Oriental Reed Warbler.

Black-browed Reed Warbler, Song (01:19; 3.9 MB)

Oriental Reed Warbler, Song (01:00; 3.2 MB)

I also made a recording of a bird that may be Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (00:15; 1.4 MB):

Phylloscopus borealoides was one of my hot topics over the weekend, after the excitement caused by my encounter on 5 May with a Sakhalin Leaf Warbler at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. The tink sound I recorded on Saturday at Nanhui was delivered faster than and at a slightly different pitch from the majority of tink calls assigned to Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and currently available on xeno-canto.org. The call more closely matches the quickly delivered, higher-pitched tink calls assigned to Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

I got a good look at the leaf warbler I recorded. It was obviously a Pale-legged or Sakhalin, but the crown was greyer than in a normal Pale/Sak and it contrasted more with the olive-brown mantle. Mark Brazil in Birds of East Asia notes the “strong contrast between greyish-toned crown/nape, and greenish (or brownish) mantle” of Sak. However, these characters are only more likely to be found in Sak; they may also be found in Pale. Because the features of the two species overlap, only song or a DNA test is diagnostic.

Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. Both species are possible in Shanghai this time of year. Of the two species, Brazil says, "[F]ield identification criteria remain uncertain."
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. Both species are possible in Shanghai this time of year. Of the two species, Brazil says, “[F]ield identification criteria remain uncertain.”
Elaine and I came upon three other birds that are hard to ID to species level. The question of Pale or Sand Martin is nettlesome, as is separating Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians from Manchurian Bush Warbler H. borealis borealis. I know that the Shanghai region falls within the breeding range of canturians, but borealis very likely passes through this region, and Kennerley and Pearson suggest that migrating borealis may sing. Certainly some of the canturians/borealis that we see here are breeding canturians; the problem is singling one out with any certainty.

Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis, Nanhui, 8 May. This bird was singing and is presumably a canturians.
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis, Nanhui, 8 May. This bird was singing and is presumably a canturians.

Another problem is the non-calling Cuculus cuckoos one encounters in Shanghai. On size one can often distinguish a well-viewed Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus, and if the eye is seen well one can distinguish the dark iris of Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus. Common Cuckoo C. canorus, Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus, and Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus are larger than C. poliocephalus, and unlike C. micropterus have yellow irides. C. optatus and C. saturatus are virtually indistinguishable, but this pair and C. canorus have some differences, among them the often unbarred yellow undertail coverts of C. optatus/saturatus and the thicker barring of those species on the breast and belly.

Common Cuckoo almost certainly breeds in Nanhui, and very soon we should be hearing its famous call. I have recorded neither C. optatus nor C. saturatus in the Shanghai region, I have witnessed C. micropterus in Shanghai, in the Tianmu Mountains, and at Dongtai in Jiangsu, and I have found C. poliocephalus at Dongtai.

Cuculus cuckoo, Nanhui, 8 May 2016. By size we know it's not Lesser Cuckoo, by iris color we know it's not Indian Cuckoo, and we can guess that it's probably Common Cuckoo. But Himalyan and Oriental can't be ruled out.
Cuculus cuckoo, Nanhui, 8 May 2016. By size we know it’s not Lesser Cuckoo, by iris color we know it’s not Indian Cuckoo, and we can guess that it’s probably Common Cuckoo. But Himalyan and Oriental can’t be ruled out.

In springtime, one encounters Cuculus adults, which if not calling are hard enough to ID; but just wait, come autumn we will be seeing the juveniles coming through. Juveniles never call, and the various Cuculus species in juvenile form resemble each other even more than Cuculus adults.

On Saturday, Elaine and I birded once again with Shanghai-based English birder Michael Grunwell. On Sunday, we birded briefly with Stephan Popp and Xueping Popp, and later Kai Pflug and his wife Jing dropped by.

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 7 May 2016 (38 species)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Lesser Yangshan Island, 7 May 2016.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Lesser Yangshan Island, 7 May 2016.

Birds noted on Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Garbage Dump Gully (30.641565, 122.062836), Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327), & Accidental Marsh (30.611902, 122.114873), an area on reclaimed land between Lesser Yangshan & Dazhitou Island (Dà Zhǐtou Dǎo [大指头岛]). Mostly cloudy and rainy. Low 15° C, high 17° C. Wind ENE 29 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 134 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:03, sunset 18:39. SAT 07 MAY 2016 05:20-08:35. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 5
Phalacrocorax sp. 1
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 3
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 3
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 1
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos 3
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 50
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 3
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 7 singing
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler H. fortipes 1
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 1
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 2
Zosterops sp. 20
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 2
White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus 5
White-shouldered Starling Sturnia sinensis 1
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 4
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 6
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 1
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 2
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia 1
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 1
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni 3
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 1
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 1
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila 2

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 7 May 2016 (71 species)

Tristram's Bunting, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. A passage migrant in Shanghai, Emberiza tristrami is a woodland bunting and is often found in the microforests at Nanhui. This is a female.
Tristram’s Bunting, Nanhui, 7 May 2016. A passage migrant in Shanghai, Emberiza tristrami is a woodland bunting and is often found in the microforests at Nanhui. This is a female.

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 between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Mostly cloudy and rainy. Low 15° C, high 17° C. Wind ENE 29 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 134 (unhealthful). Sunrise 05:03, sunset 18:39. SAT 07 MAY 2016 09:30-17:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 11
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 4
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 2
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 11
Great Egret A. alba 2
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 8
Little Egret E. garzetta 38
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 3
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 6
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 6
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 1
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 6
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 3
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 7
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 8
Common Redshank T. totanus 5
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 30
Common Greenshank T. ochropus 5
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 15
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 21
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 20
Sanderling Calidris alba 2
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis ca. 200
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 15
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 40
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 6
Dunlin C. alpina 1
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus 5
Vega Gull Larus vegae vegae/mongolicus 2
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 2
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 2
Cuculus sp. 1
Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata 2
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 8
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 2
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 7 singing
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 16
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia ca. 500
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 100
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 4
Two-barred Warbler P. plumbeitarsus 1
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides 1 making tink call
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 30
Marsh Grassbird Locustella pryeri 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 2
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 20
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 8
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 3
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 3
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 10
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 3
Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 8
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans 1
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 2
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 2
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 15 (12 tschutschensis, 3 taivana)
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 6
White Wagtail M. alba 4 leucopsis
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 2
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 3

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 8 May 2016 (62 species)

Eyebrowed Thrush, Nanhui, 8 May 2016.
Eyebrowed Thrush, Nanhui, 8 May 2016.

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 between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527, in particular South Lock (30.857798, 121.914106) & South Lawn (midpoint of grassy area at 30.849840, 121.897953). Showers & drizzle with brief periods of no precipitation. Low 14° C, high 17° C. Wind E 18 km/h. Visibility 10 km. PM2.5 AQI: 70 (moderate). Sunrise 05:02, sunset 18:39. SUN 08 MAY 2016 06:30-17:25. Craig Brelsford & Elaine Du.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha 2
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 4
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 7
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 9
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 4
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 3
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Great Egret A. alba 7
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia 10
Little Egret E. garzetta 45
Chinese Egret E. eulophotes 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 17
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 13
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 2
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 4
Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus 2
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 2
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 16
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 15
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 13
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 19
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 55
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 9
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 16
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea 1
Dunlin C. alpina 3
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 3
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Cuculus sp. 1 (not C. micropterus, not C. poliocephalus)
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 30
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 2
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 15
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 7
Pale/Sand Martin Riparia diluta/riparia ca. 300
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Japanese/Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis diphone canturians/H. borealis borealis 10 singing
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 5
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler P. borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 1
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 2
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis ca. 80
Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps 2
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 1
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 25
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 8
Zosterops sp. 3
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 9
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus 3
White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus 1
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 19
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. latirostris 7
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 11
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 leucopsis
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 2
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 2
Little Bunting E. pusilla 1
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala 8

Grey-streaked Flycatcher in the rain, Nanhui, 7 May 2016.
Grey-streaked Flycatcher in the rain, Nanhui, 7 May 2016.

Featured image: Black-faced Spoonbill in sub-adult plumage, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 7 May 2016. The spoonbills were taking advantage of the rainy weather, using pools just below the sea wall road. The road is busy when the weather is good but on rainy days is quiet.

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)

70 Species at Yangshan & Nanhui

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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