Yellow BuntingEmberiza sulphurata, also known as Japanese Yellow Bunting, breeds on Honshu, the main island of Japan. Winters mainly Philippines and presumably Taiwan and in southeast China (Fujian, Guangdong, Hong Kong). Passage migrant along east coast and Taiwan. HABITAT & BEHAVIOR Migrants in weedy and bushy clearings in open woodland and open agricultural land with bushes and thickets. Uncommon and declining, with trapping in southern China likely among factors in decline. ID & COMPARISON Small, greenish-headed. Distinguished from Black-faced BuntingE. spodocephala personata by plainer, more uniformly greenish head that contrasts less with underparts; more conspicuous white wingbars and eye-ring; uniform, blue-grey bill; and slightly smaller size. Breeding male has black lores and chin, green-tinged grey nape, and greyish-green upperparts with black streaks on mantle and scapulars. Tail brown with white outer feathers. Underparts greenish-yellow with faint streaking on flanks. Female lacks black lores and has creamy-buff underparts and less prominent wingbars. BARE PARTS Feet pinkish-brown. VOICE Soft call, tsip, tsip; twittering song shorter and softer than Black-faced Bunting. — Craig Brelsford
THE BUNTINGS OF CHINA
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Lesser Yangshan Island, Shanghai’s deepwater port off the coast of Cape Nanhui, is still birdable, but the situation has deteriorated. I was there last month. It had been 8½ years since I had first visited the island, known in Chinese as Xiǎo Yángshān (小洋山). With Covid restrictions making other out-of-town destinations risky, I thought a revisit could be pulled off.
Hanxiao Cai and I met guide Chloe Kan (WeChat ID: blessings-21) at the Dishui Lake Station (30.909430, 121.925640). We met plenty of security at the toll gate. We crossed the Donghai Bridge, one of the longest sea bridges in the world, 20 minutes of spectacular highway.
We stopped first by a large mudflat about a kilometre past the port. We found mudskippers and crabs plus 20–30 Kentish Plover and the odd Grey Heron. We drove on another 2 km and turned left onto a dirt road. We tried to enter a forest but were stopped by men demanding 168 yuan per person to continue; they did not have a ticket machine. Negotiation was not possible, so we walked around the headland—enjoying a Common Kestrel, Eastern Buzzard, numerous Blue Rock Thrush, and Little Bunting. The mild winter continues, so plenty of Clouded Yellow and brimstone butterflies were still flying.
After about 1 km we reached the sea wall—good to get some sea breeze with real waves hitting the defences harmlessly—but surprisingly few birds. We saw a Peregrine Falcon taking on an Osprey—and more of the rock thrushes. This area was peaceful and a world away from the busy port, but this may not last—ground leveling was ongoing and future construction seems assured.
I remembered “Garbage Dump Gully” (30.644194, 122.058660) and suggested we give it a try. No can do—it is now walled off and the guard firmly locked the gate in our face. What a pity—the hollow, with its dripping spring and pools, is a magnet for migrating birds. It was not only one of the best spots for birding on Lesser Yangshan but also one of the best birding spots in the entire Shanghai region. We tried the back route, now “developed for tourism” so also fenced off, derelict and inaccessible. The locals informed us the hill opposite (30.633940, 122.057731) with a large transmitter station on top is equally closed. We did not try Temple Mount (30.639778, 122.048256), another formerly outstanding site.
Is Lesser Yangshan Island still worth birding? There is little doubt the place offers fewer birding opportunities than several years ago. But we enjoyed the day out and saw some good birds, and our green Covid codes stayed green despite the trip into Zhejiang. Even now, I think anyone who aspires to know Shanghai has to see Xiǎo Yángshān.
MAP & PHOTOS
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Birding Sites Around Shanghai: Use this page to help you find the right spots for birding in Shanghai and further afield in east-central China. The Shanghai region comprises the city-province of Shanghai plus parts of neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Habitats range from mudflats on the coast to wooded parks in the inner city and forested hills and mountains inland.
Click here to view the eBird hotspot page for Xiao Yangshan Island.