Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Abroad in China: Shanghai - the Bund / Huangpu Park

A Birding Visit to Shanghai's Bund and Huangpu Park The Bund is one of Shanghai’s famous landmarks, a riverfront area lined with ostentatious European stone building facades. A major pedestrian path in front of it, right on the riverbank, is popular with tourists. Of course, I visited there hoping to take the pedestrian walk up to a greenspace northeast of the main Bund area – Huangpu Park.

It was a moderately busy October day on the waterfront, though warmer times are generally much busier. While looking out over the river, I noticed for the first time that there were no waterbirds whatsoever. No ducks were out on the river, and no gulls soared over or perched on the lightposts. In fact, this would come to be the case throughout our trip: ducks were exceedingly rare, and I never saw a single gull in China.

However, clear across the river, there was an area of mudflats, where a small group of what appeared to be Intermediate Egrets (Mesophoyx intermedia) were foraging spastically. In a little while, another Intermediate Egret flew over the river to join them, along with a lone Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea). I was not able to photograph them, nor would I see either species again in China.

A ways along the waterfront to the north, we reached Huangpu Park. The usual complement of pigeons & doves, bulbuls, and sparrows were present, along with a couple of Eurasian Blackbirds among the branches. A Mugimaki Flycatcher among the treetops was also nice to see.

But as it turned out, the best finds were out of the park at its northern edge. On a concrete lock spanning a water outlet were 3 Little Egrets, preening and stretching in the sunshine.

They were perhaps the easiest birds to photograph that I encountered in Shanghai, not reacting at all to the large amounts of pedestrian traffic on the main river wall.

And far out in the water, 2 Eastern White Wagtails (Motacilla [alba] ocularis) were walking around on a concrete pier -- difficult to see even in photos.

Although the main portion of the Bund gets heavy foot traffic and is devoid of any birds but Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Huangpu Park has the good fortune of being an isolated semi-wooded strip on a northeast-facing corner of land. Migrants probably make brief stopovers here, no doubt especially in spring, and though small, the park seems worth checking.

We eventually went for a small restaurant with an even smaller front in an alley off the Bund (unfortunately we did not make note of the name or exact location). Though the food was good and well-seasoned in general, including some very spicy dishes, the restaurant itself was smoky and a bit dark inside.

List - 10/22/13

Gray Heron - 1 (flyover with single Intermediate Egret)
Intermediate Egret - 9 (1 flyover, others feeding jerkily on mudflats across river)
Little Egret - 3 (perched on concrete lock, preening)
Rock Pigeon - x (flyovers)
Spotted Dove - 1
Light-vented Bulbul - x
Eurasian Blackbird - 2
Mugimaki Flycatcher - 1 (immature male flycatching in trees)
White Wagtail - 2 (out on edge of concrete pier in water)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow - x

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Abroad in China: Shanghai - Buyecheng Park

A Birding Visit to Shanghai's Buyecheng Park While staying in Shanghai, I was fortunate to be able to walk to quiet Buyecheng Park from my hotel. Despite its odd shape, lobed and narrow and straddling a traffic-heavy road, it harbored a few birds of interest, and was relatively peaceful for the parks we visited in China.

I first visited the park with my father and brother just to scout out its southern end. A stroll along the main path in the wooded portion quickly yielded the commonest birds: Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Spotted Dove, Light-vented Bulbul, and “Rock” Pigeons overhead. However, we were amazed when we spotted a Rufous-backed Shrike (Lanius schach) in plain view along the trailside, perched in the top of a yucca! I had certainly never seen a shrike in a city park before. Unfortunately the individual stayed put only briefly, and flew off to parts unknown before we could take a photo of it.

Two days later, we returned to Buyecheng Park (along with my mother and grandfather) to spend the majority of our morning there. With more time to spare, I was able to find a few East Asian migrants scattered in the park.

The shady grove of Schneider’s Zelkovas at the northwest corner of the park harbored an active female Mugimaki Flycatcher (Ficedula mugimaki) at their edge, flycatching along the sidewalk.

In the canopy of these trees was an extremely quiet, difficult-to-see female Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) in the midst of their canopy.

The very last bird I identified there was a highly mobile and vocal Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) that I eventually ended up tracking from the park’s northwest corner to its south-central end. Despite its continual presence, I was unable to photograph it - too quick a flyer for me.

Although my time there was somewhat limited, I would guess that Buyecheng Park is generally a good quiet park to find migrant species. Despite its city-park appearance, species like Rufous-backed Shrike and Mugimaki Flycatcher were easy to find there even given as little as 15 minutes. I would gladly revisit the park at any time of year, if only to see what changing avifauna it harbors.

A department store just a block or two west of Buyecheng Park's west end has at least a few options for food, including a South Asian-style food court in the basement. We opted for a restaurant on the third floor, Orange House. They offered a range of upscale semi-fast-food from American-style to generalized (but tasty) Chinese. Very bright and clean.

List - 10/21/13

Rock Pigeon – x (flyovers)
Spotted Dove – 1
Rufous-backed Shrike – 1 (great views of individual in top of yucca bloomstalk)
Light-vented Bulbul – 1 (innumerable)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – x
List - 10/23/13

Spotted Dove – 2 (possible undercount)
Light-vented Bulbul – x (innumerable, easy to photograph)
Yellow-browed Warbler – 1 (calling constantly and highly active, if hard to see)
Mugimaki Flycatcher – 1 (female flycatching at NW edge of park)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – x
Brambling – 1 (female sitting motionless in shady canopy of zelkovas)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Abroad in China: Shanghai - People's Park

A Birding Visit to Shanghai's People's Park Just as the name implies, People’s Park is a crowded and bustling place. The throngs choking the wooded paths, many of them attending to large personal-advertisement boards, were probably even greater than usual on my visit (a Sunday). As the very first place in China that I visited in the daytime (having arrived in Shanghai the previous night), I could see as we disembarked from the Metro station that People's Park really was far more full of people than birds.

Common birds were around, though. Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) were everywhere from the Metro station to the pond in the park’s center. As we headed south along one of the paths, I found Light-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus sinensis) and Spotted Doves (Streptopelia chinensis) in the bushes. Eventually I would find that these three species – sparrow, bulbul, and dove – would be the only wild birds common to every Chinese city I visited.

Eurasian Blackbirds (Turdus merula) were also noisy and conspicuous in the trees nearer the pond, if difficult to photograph.

Other than feral “Rock” Pigeons overhead, the final species I found in People’s Park was a flock of about 5 Vinous-throated Parrotbills (Sinusthorus webbianus), small chattering brown birds with exceedingly stubby bills. They were too active to photograph well and quickly moved off, though I was able to see them well due to their close approach. I would only see parrotbills again in Xi’an, and again briefly.

Although People’s Park was a good way to start with birding in China for a first-timer like me, I would probably only revisit it (given the chance) during spring migration, or at least during a weekday. The crowds made maneuvering to find birds difficult, and Vinous-throated Parrotbills were the only highlight among 6 species on the morning.

In the center of People's Park, situated right on the pond, there's a Western-style restaurant, the "Barbarossa". Food is pricey for China in general, and plates are small and quite Westernized. Convenient and well-done but perhaps not the best option in the area.

List - 10/20/13

Rock Pigeon – x (flyovers)
Spotted Dove – 2 (on top of utility box in bushes)
Light-vented Bulbul – x (innumerable in treetops)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 5 (single flock)
Eurasian Blackbird – 6 (noisy squabbling group)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – x