A short business trip to Shanghai, China was too good an opportunity to miss so I decided to add three day’s birding onto the end of the trip before returning to the UK. Having birded the Botanical Gardens in Shanghai on a previous trip but not having the time to go far afield I wanted something more challenging around Shanghai so via the internet I made contact with Zhang Lin a local Chinese birder living in Shanghai who speaks good English. Zhang Lin is an extremely competent and knowledgeable birder with excellent field skills and is trying to become established as a birding guide. He can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. He is happy to cater for whatever you wish be it one day’s birding up to more extended birding trips. In my opinion it would be inordinately complicated to do a trip such as the one we did oneself, especially if constrained by time. I guess one could get to Xiao Yangshan by bus but we met very few Chinese who spoke English, local bus services are not that reliable and doing it solo would take inordinately longer than with a local who knows the ropes. The other destinations we visited would be just about impossible without a driver and someone with local knowledge and contacts
September 28 2008 - Xiao Yangshan
Weather very windy due to the proximity of a Typhoon off Taiwan but sunny and very warm.
I met Zhang Lin at 0700 at my Hotel in Shanghai and we took a taxi to a bus station where we made our way via two buses to an island called Xiao Yangshan. Although an island it is connected to the mainland via an enormous, kilometres long bridge which the second bus crosses and then deposits you at the local bus station on the island. We arrived at around 0900 and made our way to a nearby scrubby, rocky hillside by the sea with a weather station on the top of it. We birded the landward side of the hill where it was sheltered from the onshore wind. The wind was probably fortuitous as it concentrated the birds on the sheltered landward side. We soon started connecting with birds the first being three species of wagtail, Yellow, White and Grey on a small pool at the base of the hillside plus a typically noisy Long Tailed Shrike and a Brown Shrike. Walking up the hillside we found an Asian Brown Flycatcher and eventually estimated there must have been fifty plus in the area with at least fourteen perched on one short stretch of fence around the weather station. Blue Rock Thrushes played their usual hide and seek in and around the rocks. More surprising was the discovery, after some debate about the ID, of two Collared Scop’s Owls which we flushed separately from the low vegetation and shortly after a juvenile Oriental Cuckoo flew rapidly along the hillside. We followed the track up the hill and came to a small flat area with an isolated tree in which we found two beautiful adult male Blue and White Flycatchers along with around six Asian Brown Flycatchers. Whilst watching these an Eastern Crowned Warbler obligingly perched motionless on the edge of some bushes below the tree for around five minutes apparently basking in the sun and then an Arctic Warbler appeared in virtually the same spot. A Black Capped Kingfisher put in a brief fly by appearance. We then retraced our steps and made our way around the back of the weather station to an overgrown area overlooking a Temple. The trees at the back of the Temple were alive with passerines including at least two more Eastern Crowned Warbler plus Yellow browed and Arctic Warbler, a single Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, a Black naped Oriole, a small flock of Yellow billed Grosbeak, Bull headed Shrike, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Grey streaked Flycatcher and two roosting Black crowned Night Herons. We had our al-fresco lunch by the Temple whilst watching another two Orioles and some perched Yellow billed Grosbeak. Setting off back up the path we located a Dusky Warbler and male Siberian Stonechat. We then crossed to the seaward side which was devoid of birds apart from a Common Kestrel hanging in the wind and walked a mile or so to another Cliffside area. Again we remained on the sheltered side and although not so many birds were here we found good numbers of Asian Brown Flycatchers, a couple of Grey Streaked Flycatchers and Long tailed and Bull headed Shrike. We followed an elevated track that led to a smallholding and looking down to the base of the hill found a few Richard’s Pipits feeding in the gravel and grass plus an Oriental Turtle Dove and some Spotted Doves. A Common Kingfisher flew from a pond, a couple of Great Tits - (no yellow underparts, just greyish white) and a flock of fifteen plus Light Vented Bulbuls flew up the hillside. We progressed to the smallholding and the highlight here was a White’s Thrush which flew up from beside the path and very obligingly gave close up views as it perched motionless low in a tree for around fifteen minutes. We watched it feeding and perched for around forty five minutes and I even managed some reasonable digiscoped shots of it. Zhang Lin then alerted me to some Fork Tailed Swifts flying above the Cliff face. We followed the track upwards and just before a long tunnel which led through the rock to the seaward side a small leaf warbler gave tantalisingly brief views before disappearing but was probably a Two Barred Warbler. There was little birdlife on the seaward side apart from a Peregrine and Common Kestrel disputing the airspace above us. We returned the way we came and made our way to the bus stop catching the 1630 bus back across the bridge to Binhai where we checked in to an enormous new Hotel at around 1730. We celebrated with a beer and an extremely palatable Chinese meal and retired to bed early as we were both very tired. The room itself was sparse but comfortable, clean, air conditioned and had a shower. Please note that in China there is no smoking ban so always ensure you ask for a non smoking room if you are a non smoker. Same applies to restaurants both in Hotels and elsewhere.
Day total at Xiao Yangshan 0900-1600 - 36 species/8 lifers
Common Kingfisher 1; Black capped Kingfisher 1; Oriental Cuckoo 1; Fork tailed Swift 1+; Collared Scops Owl 2; Common Kestrel 1; Peregrine 1; Black crowned Night Heron 2; Oriental Turtle Dove 2; Spotted Dove 3; Bull headed Shrike 3; Brown Shrike 1; Long tailed Shrike 5; Black naped Oriole 3; Japanese Paradise Flycatcher 1; Blue Rock Thrush 6; White’s Thrush 1; Light vented Bulbul 15+; Grey Streaked Flycatcher 4+; Asian Brown Flycatcher 50+; Blue and White Flycatcher 6; Siberian Stonechat 2; Great Tit 2; Barn Swallow 1; Plain Prinia 1; Dusky Warbler 1; Yellow browed Warbler 2; Arctic Warbler 2; probable Two Barred Warbler 1; Eastern Crowned Warbler 3+; Eurasian Tree Sparrow 50+;Yellow Wagtail 10+; Grey Wagtail 3; White Wagtail 2; Richard’s Pipit 3; Yellow billed Grosbeak; 12+
September 29 2008 - Binhai and San Gia Gang
Weather again very windy and now overcast with hint of rain-again the after effects of the Typhoon off Taiwan
Zhang Lin had arranged for a driver to ferry us around various birding spots at Binhai so at 0700 we duly left the Hotel collecting some snacks and water from a local store. Binhai is being developed on a massive scale as a Container Port and the local fishing village has been almost enveloped by huge building projects and wide deserted and featureless roads. However we drove through the older part of town past fishermen mending their nets in the narrow road and parked at the estuary mouth of an unknown river and scoped the mudbanks. There were only a few waders but they were pretty good namely a Greater Sand Plover, a Terek Sandpiper, some Red Necked Stint and Kentish Plover. We followed the road which runs atop the seawall and runs for miles and has been constructed to reclaim a vast area of saltmarsh, reedbeds and small stretches of open water. Periodically we would stop, listening for Reed Parrotbills and on a couple of occasions walked down some tracks into the reedbeds and water but were singularly unsuccessful. The wind was very strong and hearing birds calling was not easy. We managed to hear some Vinous Throated Parrotbill and the stretches of water held many Little Grebe, some Common Moorhen and we flushed a male Yellow Bittern and a Common Snipe. An Asian Brown Flycatcher in the reeds, a Zitting Cisticola and a flyover Blue and White Flycatcher were somewhat of a surprise and there was a constant passage of Barn Swallows across the reeds. This area is so large that the only way to get around is by car and so our driver duly drove us slowly along the wall while we looked out and when we saw something interesting got him to stop. Our next stop provided us with some ducks out on a lake – Gadwall and Eurasian Teal plus Eurasian Coot which apparently has just colonised this area and Great Crested Grebe. There were also a few Sand Martins and Barn Swallows flying over the lake and while watching these I picked up a small wader flying low with them which then landed on the water and proved to be a juvenile Red necked Phalarope. We also flushed a group of five Black crowned Night Herons from the reeds and an Intermediate Egretwas also sheltering by the reeds with some Little Egrets. We had a look over the seaward side of the wall and just about able to stand in the wind were rewarded with two Black tailed Gulls flying by. Some Eurasian Curlew and two Common Sandpipers were also roosting on the sea defences and numbers of Yellow and White Wagtails were flying past. Driving further along I spotted a bird perched on a telephone wire. We stopped and found ourselves looking at a Wryneck which remained perched here for a long time before flying down into the reeds. Some miles further on we came to a fairly large and open area of shallow water and mud just behind the seawall that was covered with waders. We spent some time here identifying the following fantastic array of species: Terek Sandpiper, Broad billed Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp tailed Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Black tailed Godwit, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Red necked Stint, Temmincks Stint, Dunlin, Black winged Stilt, Oriental Pratincole, Common Snipe, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Garganey and Spot billed Duck. There was also one wader that baffled us and kept us occupied for over ninety minutes. It had many characteristics of Sharp tailed Sandpiper but was very small being smaller than a Dunlin and only slightly larger than Red-necked Stint. We wondered about Long toed Stint but it appeared to have black legs although the bad light, distance and windy conditions made it very difficult to be certain. In the end we had to concede defeat and settled for either an aberrantly small juvenile Sharp tailed Sandpiper or Long toed Stint. Moving on we came to another area of deeper open water and another good bird in the form of seven Black faced Spoonbills initially asleep but then waking and commencing to feed. At least two appeared to be juveniles. We watched these rare birds for quite some time also noting an immature Black crowned Night Heron standing unusually in the open by some reeds and a few Whiskered Terns, some still in summer plumage flying by.
Day total at Binhai 0900-1530 - 61 species/4 lifers
Mallard 3; Spot billed Duck 10+; Northern Shoveler 3; Gadwall 5; Garganey 20+; Eurasian Teal 20+; Wryneck 1; Common Kingfisher 3; Common Moorhen 10+; Eurasian Coot 30+; Red necked Phalarope 1; Oriental Pratincole 4; Common Snipe 2; Black tailed Godwit 50+; Little Curlew 1; Eurasian Curlew 7; Spotted Redshank 3; Marsh Sandpiper 25+; Common Greenshank 15+; Green Sandpiper 1; Wood Sandpiper 20+; Terek Sandpiper 3; Common Sandpiper 2; Sharp tailed Sandpiper 4; Dunlin 50+; Broad billed Sandpiper 4; Red necked Stint 80+; Temminck’s Stint 2; Black winged Stilt 4; Little Ringed Plover 30+; Kentish Plover 30+; Lesser Sand Plover 2; Greater Sand Plover 2; Black tailed Gull 2; Vega Gull 1; Black headed Gull 2; Little Tern 4; Whiskered Tern 10; Common Kestrel 3; Great Crested Grebe 5; Little Grebe 60+; Great Cormorant 1; Little Egret 80+; Intermediate Egret 1; Grey Heron 20+; Chinese Pond Heron 1; Black crowned Night Heron 8; Yellow Bittern 2;
Black faced Spoonbill 7; Bull headed Shrike 1; Long tailed Shrike 8; Asian Brown Flycatcher 1; Blue and White Flycatcher 1; White cheeked Starling 15; Sand Martin 4; Barn Swallow 50+; Zitting Cisticola 2; Vinous throated Parrotbill 1; Yellow Wagtail 50+; White Wagtail 50+; Eurasian Tree Sparrow 100;
We now reluctantly left this area and whilst driving to Binhai for lunch I saw a lone medium sized wader flying over the car and which Zhang Lin identified as a Little Curlew. Sadly it did not stop but carried on to settle invisibly into the vast marshes. A brief view and not very satisfactory for a lifer. After lunch we went to another area of open wet grassy fields called San Jia Gang near Pudong Airport which Zhang Lin said was good for Little Curlew and Pacific Golden Plover. Initially it looked fairly devoid of birds apart from a few Richard’s Pipits and 30 plus Oriental Pratincole but as we scoped the area we found some good birds feeding on the wetter areas. Two Sharp tailed Sandpiper, a summer plumage adult and fresh juvenile came very close accompanied by some Red necked Stints. Further away were some Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper and a single Spotted Redshank. A number of Common Snipe were also feeding and one we flushed certainly behaved like a Pintail Snipe flying silently and only a short distance Jack Snipe fashion. There was also a large flock of Yellow Wagtails mainly juveniles or females but three adult males turned out to be one of the race M f. macronyx and two of the race M f. taivana. No sign of our two target species but then just as we were about to leave a Little Curlew flew in only to land briefly and then take off again but giving us very close fly by views before it disappeared into the distance. We decided to leave satisfied with the day but as if on cue a calling Pacific Golden Plover alerted us and we watched it land nearby on the fields. You couldn’t make it up! Walking back to the car we then headed off to our overnight hotel in Rudong which is three hours drive north of Shanghai. Driving in China is not for the faint hearted and I thanked my stars that we had a driver experienced in the grand prix style driving that is standard practice for all Chinese drivers. The hotel was pretty basic but clean as was the “restaurant” we ate at but I was so tired I did not care and slept soundly after a fantastic days birding
Day total at San Gia Gang 1600-1730 - 17 species/ 1 lifer
Oriental Pratincole 31; probable Pintail Snipe 1; Common Snipe 10; Little Curlew 1; Spotted Redshank 1; Marsh Sandpiper 2; Wood Sandpiper 20+; Sharp tailed Sandpiper 2; Red necked Stint 10+; Pacific Golden Plover 1; Little Egret 2; Cattle Egret 1; Barn Swallow 3; Plain Prinia 1; Eurasian Tree Sparrow 200; Yellow Wagtail 80+ ( three races identified M f taivana, macronyx & simillima); White Wagtail 2; Richard’s Pipit 3
30 September 2008 - Yangkou
Weather still very windy but with clear skies and warm sun
We left our Hotel in Rudong at 0630 and made our way to Yangkou which is a fishing town on the coast. We drove down a long straight road towards the estuary passing moored fishing boats which must have stretched for at least two kilometres alongside the road. We turned over a bridge onto the seawall road and shortly after stopped at a viewing point that looked over a vast area of mud with the sea beyond. The mud was covered with birds. There must have been in excess of fifty Saunder’s Gulls, the majority immatures flying around singly, searching the mud together with around twenty Gull billed Terns. On the mud itself was a lone Caspian Gull plus many waders. I got a lifer when we located some Eastern Curlew feeding with their impossibly long bills on crabs which they extracted from deep in the mud. There were also some Eurasian Curlew to provide a nice comparison in rump colour and bill length. Other waders present in small numbers were Grey Plover, Common Greenshank and Dunlin with much larger numbers (in excess of 100 each) of Kentish Plover and Red necked Stint. A single Whimbrel and two Common Redshank were also noted but the best bird by far was located just as we were leaving the viewpoint. An unfamiliar call came from just below us and a medium sized grey wader flew out from almost under our feet. It was a Grey tailed Tattler and it settled just a few metres from us teetering like a giant Common Sandpiper as it nervously watched us. We then drove along the seawall to the end where a causeway with wooded banks stretched inland for some kilometres between sunken fields. Zhang Lin had seen a Wood Warbler here (major rarity in China) the week before and said it was a good place for passerine migrants. We started down the causeway and almost immediately found a Siberian Stonechat followed by a large flock of 40+ Vinous throated Parrotbills and a Yellow browed Warbler in some scrub by the banks. There was also another warbler quietly singing in the same area which proved very elusive but eventually we got a view of it - Manchurian Bush Warbler. We carried on down the track and next found two adult and one first year male Mugimaki Flycatchers which were joined by a Blue and White Flycatcher and a couple of Asian Brown Flycatchers. The wooded banks had initially looked singularly unpromising but just kept producing birds, most of them on the side sheltered from the wind. A Long tailed Shrike and a Bull headed Shrike were located and then two White’s Thrush one showing to good effect the black and white underwing pattern. Two Great Tits, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Black billed Magpies and three Common Pheasant were more mundane but we soon found a female Blue Rock Thrush and then a couple of Dusky Thrush. Just as we turned away from these a stunning male White throated Rock Thrush flew up from the bank and gave us point blank views as it sat bobbing and tail flicking in alarm. Could it get any better? Well yes, as further on we found a Radde’s Warbler virtually at our feet scuttling around like a mouse through the vegetation on the ground. With difficulty we tracked it’s progress through the ground vegetation until we lost it to view. Where we last saw it another bird hopped up onto a twig and we had a really good find, a Rufous tailed Robin which Zhang Lin said was a genuine rarity here. It sat for ages in the same spot so we could both have our fill of watching it. Although non descript it was somewhat appealing with its scaly breast and flanks and Robin like charm. There was still kilometres of this causeway to cover but Zhang Lin said we should retrace our steps as we needed to get back for the high tide roost of waders. There was some debate as to what to do as who knew what further goodies lurked further down the track and we did seem to be on a bit of a roll. However we reluctantly decided on the wader roost which was probably one of the better decisions we made but more of this later. On the way back we encountered one other good species–I saw what at first appeared to be another Asian Brown Flycatcher but on looking at it in the scope saw it had very dusky flanks and Zhang Lin confirmed that it was indeed a Dark sided Flycatcher. We also found several other male Mugimaki Flycatchers, female and first year Blue and White Flycatchers and Asian Brown Flycatchers on the way back.
High tide was at 1400 so we walked out onto the exposed mud around 1200 to meet the incoming tide. Standing on a mud bank well out on the marsh the birds slowly came closer to us until we were surrounded by them as the tide pushed them up to and past us. It was a very high tide due to the strong wind and the lunar cycle and we soon found ourselves being pushed off the mud bank by the rising water. We were given sanctuary on a moored raft with a woven roof occupied by two Chinese guys pumping seawater to a seaweed factory inland. The raft just about accommodated the four of us and we stretched out and slept on it for the next hour and a half bobbing on the sunlit sea as the tide rose and then fell. All in all a very pleasant experience. Eventually as the tide started to recede we could get into the water without it coming over our wellingtons and we made our way back to the mud bank. Shortly after as more mud became exposed we were surrounded by large numbers of waders of many species as they returned from their roost behind us. Zhang Lin had told me he had seen a Spoon billed Sandpiper here a couple of weeks earlier but we did not really hold out much hope we would see one. We scanned the huge numbers of waders and found Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Red necked Stint, Dunlin, Sanderling, Kentish Plover, Common Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper, Red Knot, Grey Plover, Eastern Curlew, Eurasian Curlew and then matters became really exciting. Zhang Lin showed his prowess by locating a Nordmann’s Greenshank roosting in the mass of waders just in front of us and then we found two more. As I was watching these beauties Zhang Lin uttered the words I did not think I would hear “I have got a Spoon billed Sandpiper”. The adrenalin rush was huge and there it was not 30m from us feeding energetically on the watery mud moving its bill from side to side. Once located it really stood out among the accompanying Red necked Stints as the white underparts and forehead really gleamed so much whiter in the sun and the feeding action was even more rapid than the surrounding Red necked Stints. In all we watched it for around forty five minutes, never taking our eyes from it and just relishing this very special brief time in its company, watching it feeding, preening, and on one occasion briefly in flight. It slowly moved away from us until we eventually lost it to view behind some marsh grasses. Unbelievably we then found another Spoon billed Sandpiper which was much more distant and soon lost to view but not before we had seen the distinctive bill. After the thrill of the Spoon billed Sandpipers I relaxed and went back to the Nordmann’s Greenshanks whilst Zhang Lin enhanced his by now sky high reputation with me by finding a Chinese Egret amongst the hundreds of Little Egrets. Other good finds were two immature Relict Gulls amongst the large number of Saunder’s Gulls and we cleaned up on the large gulls, finding Heuglin’s, Slaty backed, Vega and Black tailed Gulls. In a couple of hours it was all over as the birds had by then dispersed to distant parts of the saltmarsh and we were left with just the memory of a wonderful experience. I hesitate to say it but it was probably all round the best day’s birding I have had anywhere in the world both for birds and the spiritual uplift from being in such a magical place. Even more poignant is the fact that this may all be gone in a couple of years as a wall is apparently being built to reclaim this whole area of saltmarsh from the sea. I just consider myself so fortunate to have seen it before it goes - if it does.
We made our way back to land and the car flushing a Chinese Pond Heron on the way and Zhang Lin told me that a pair of Meadow Bunting breed here by the seawall. We rounded off the day with an excellent Chinese seafood meal plus a bottle of the local beer in a restaurant by the fishing boats. It was then a three hour drive back to my Hotel in Shanghai to prepare for my flight home the next day. If Cloud Nine does exist then I am sure I saw it from the plane home after this experience!
Day total at Yangkou 0900-1630 - 58 species/11 lifers
Common Pheasant 3; Great Spotted Woodpecker 2; Oriental Turtle Dove 2; Black tailed Godwit 4; Whimbrel 1; Eurasian Curlew 400; Eastern Curlew 400; Grey tailed Tattler 1; Common Redshank 2; Common Greenshank 150; Nordmann’s Greenshank 3; Terek Sandpiper 4; Ruddy Turnstone 1; Red Knot 10; Sanderling 100; Dunlin 100; Spoon billed Sandpiper 2; Red necked Stint 1000; Grey Plover 200; Kentish Plover 1000; Lesser Sand Plover 200; Greater Sand Plover 5; Black tailed Gull 10; Slaty backed Gull 1; Heuglin’s Gull 1; Vega Gull 1; Caspian Gull 1 L c mongolicus [although possibly both vegae and mongolicus are now classed as a races of American Herring Gull L smithsonianus]; Black headed Gull 5; Saunder’s Gull 200; Relict Gull 2; Common Tern 2; Gull billed Tern 30; Peregrine Falcon 1; Little Egret 400; Chinese Egret 1; Great Egret 1; Grey Heron 15; Chinese Pond Heron 1; Long tailed Shrike 6; Bull headed Shrike 2; Black billed Magpie 3; White throated Rock Thrush 1; Blue Rock Thrush 1; White’s Thrush 2; Dusky Thrush 2; Rufous tailed Robin 1; Dark sided Flycatcher 1; Asian Brown Flycatcher 6; Mugimaki Flycatcher 4; Blue and White Flycatcher 5; Siberian Stonechat 1; White cheeked Starling 3; Great Tit 4; Barn Swallow 2; Manchurian Bush Warbler 1; Yellow browed Warbler 1; Radde’s Warbler 1; Vinous throated Parrotbill 40+.
It was almost impossible to accurately count the number of waders roosting at Yangkou so many of the totals are the best estimates I could make of the waders we could see in our specific area. There would undoubtedly be many more scattered over the whole area. As we came off the saltmarsh there were many waders flying over the seawall and out to the saltmarsh that had obviously roosted inland