Monday, January 6, 2014

Abroad in China: Shanghai - Zhabei Park

A Birding Visit to Shanghai's Zhabei Park
On our final afternoon in Shanghai, I took the Metro Line 1 to Zhabei Park with my father and brother, hoping to find more birds in this large and slightly more out-of-the-way public space. Plenty of people of all ages were out in the park, many playing loud music in the occasional open plaza, but I found a nice handful of species scattered throughout.

Despite not being able to spend a large amount of time birding, I even found a small flock of migrating Old World warblers. In fact, this warbler flock was the first group of birds I encountered in the park after the typical sightings of Light-vented Bulbuls in the trees.

By a bridge over a canal, a large elm was full of noise and activity. Immediately apparent and visible were the small Yellow-browed Warblers (Phylloscopus inornatus) flitting in and out of the foliage. All were overhead, frequently upside-down, and hard to photograph (as warblers often are!).

Among them was an even brighter-browed Pallas's Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus), which at the park I only identified by its voice, lower-pitched than the Yellow-broweds.

Although I found these two species to be difficult choices from among eastern China's many Old World warblers, they seemed the most likely candidates, and I would encounter what seemed to be the same two species later elsewhere. I had also found a probable Yellow-browed Warbler previously in Shanghai, at Buyecheng Park. In any case, my only picture of this likely Pallas's in Zhabei Park is quite blurry!

But easier to find even than the warblers was a Japanese Tit (Parus minor) that was associating with them - I heard this bird before reaching the canal, past which was the warbler flock. Though obtaining only one picture of it, I was happy to hear and observe a parid in China for the first time.

Farther down the creek, across from one of the open plazas where people were playing badminton and music, a male Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) sat serenely above the canal's waters in a Chinese Parasoltree (Firmiana simplex).  After we had watched it for a few minutes, it dropped into flight from its perch and headed east, flying under a bridge and following the canal.

Past the plaza, however, we encountered a species out of its setting: multiple captive Chinese Hwameis (Garrulax canorus).  There had been a few cagebirds in trees along the Shanghai streets, but Zhabei Park was the first time I saw the common practice of bringing "songbirds" in their cages to public parks to sing.  Throughout our trip I would see Chinese Hwameis in these kinds of cages, but I never found a wild hwamei.

The southern edge of the park was comparatively bird-poor, partly due to the presence of a busy east-west pedestrian thoroughfare that followed the southern border.  Though Eurasian Blackbirds lurked in the canopy, it was also shady there by midafternoon - the low light was blocked by the homes and buildings bordering the park there.  We eventually headed diagonally through the park again toward the west side, towards the major monument there.

Outside of birding, Zhabei Park is notable primarily for this monument in its northwest quarter: the tomb of Song Jiaoren, the Republic of China's Prime-Minister-elect in 1912. Usually described as an arrogant but singularly democratic revolutionary, he was Dr. Sun Yat-sen's major ally in the founding of the Nationalist Party and the writing of the republic's Constitution, and was the favorite for Prime Minister in the first governmental election of 20th-century China. Ultimately, he was assassinated before reaching his expected office, by a former soldier likely acting on the order of corrupt President Yuan Shikai (who later attempted to declare himself emperor).

Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the stone memorial by the tomb itself; this is the statue on the path leading to that area.  The stairs in the back left lead up to the tomb courtyard.

But by the tomb, we encountered our second Rufous-backed Shrike in Shanghai!  As soon as we walked up to the memorial yard, this individual was perched serenely in the top of a juniper, watching over the area.  It stayed long enough for great views and acceptable pictures, before departing eastward to somewhere else in the park.

Though far from natural (what do you expect from a city park?), Zhabei Park seems to be a fairly diverse place for birds.  I would have liked to spend more time there, given its large area, and it is surely worth doing so.  But even if you have just half an hour to walk around, you'll probably find something here, even if you're not birding.  Zhabei Park has not just habitat, but jogging paths, a historical monument, waterways, and small sports facilities.  There will inevitably be something worth checking out.

No separate lunch entry here...  We ate at Orange House this day , and visited Zhabei Park in the afternoon (see Buyecheng Park for more about the morning).

List - 10/23/13

Rock Pigeon - x (flyovers)
Common Kingfisher - 1 (male, perched over canal before flying away)
Rufous-backed Shrike - 1 (in top of juniper by tomb of Song Jiaoren)
Japanese Tit - 1 (by canal, calling and moving rapidly through canopy)
Light-vented Bulbul - x
Pallas's Leaf-warbler - 1 (with Yellow-broweds, often chasing them; ID at-scene based on lower voice)
Yellow-browed Warbler - 4 (possible undercount, small migrating flock in elm by canal)


  1. See, I didn't have to go with you guys since you did such a nice job recapping it here!

  2. I've been enjoying reading your observations. China from a birders perspective has been interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Would you go back to China in a different season to try and see other birds?

  4. Wonderful pictures! Love the descriptions too - seeing your and Teresa's accounts of the trip have been a real treat.

  5. Thank you, all. I do appreciate your comments even when I forget I haven't replied yet.

    Epicure, yes, I would definitely go back in another season! As many things as I saw, there will certainly be different things in summer too.