It was with some excitement that Brian Jones (a guest blogger on Birding Beijing) sent me a SMS at the weekend saying that he thought he had discovered some breeding White-faced (Swinhoe’s) Plovers in Guangdong Province, southern China…
Here is Brian’s story….
WHITE-FACED (SWINHOE’S) PLOVER, Aegialites (Charadrius) dealbatus. A new breeding ground in Guangdong Province, South China.
I arrived in Shenzhen at the end of January having previously lived in Beijing for three years. Since then most weekends I have been “blitzing” a location south of Haifeng (Dahu) which is about two and a half hours by bus east of Shenzhen. This is my normal habit of birding which I have found pays dividends in the long run. The site has already produced some wonderful birds during the Spring migration, especially waders including both Nordmann’s (Spotted) Greenshank and Asian Dowitcher. This time of the year the Terns begin to arrive so I have been keeping a weather-eye on a sandspit that seems to be favoured by the birds. But it is over 500ms from the Dahu shore, so I decided to try a new location hoping to be able to approach the Terns more closely.
I decided to stay in Lufeng a town of similar size about 50mins to the east of Haifeng. I arrived on Friday evening in good time and located a palatial hotel opposite the bus station which was twice as expensive as my normal W/E hotel in Haifeng. However it did have very impressive Corinthian columns and a mighty bas-relief behind the front desk! The following morning I headed off to a small village, Shanghaizai about 20mins by scooter-cab south of the town, which looked quite close to the Tern sandspit. However my navigation went sadly awry and, after walking for some time, I ended up two hours later on the wrong peninsular. A peninsular, I might add, with no seabirds at all. However all was not lost as a few minutes later a fisherman chugged past who very kindly agreed to ferry me over the water for a small consideration which he was very reluctant to accept.
When I disembarked I estimated I was about 3.5kms down the beach from the sandspit so I set off at a leisurely pace. I soon began to notice a number of pairs of odd looking “Kentish Plover”. These birds were greyer and paler, with pale pinkish grey legs, long tarsi, strong beak, wide and longish white supercilium. The females were much whiter around the eye and the males had a short black patch at the shoulder and a very steep forehead. I suspected that these birds might be White-faced Plover which I have never seen but I did had some field notes with me which I used for comparison. After having watched at least 15 pairs I was fairly sure they were indeed W-F Pls which made the location extremely important as I knew of no other site in China where they bred in such numbers. I was also very excited because I knew I had seen a larger number of “Kentish Plovers” on the Dahu beach and had been confused to find KPs breeding so far south. I intend to check out the Dahu birds this W/E.
Yesterday I emailed photos to Peter Ericsson in Thailand as I knew he was very familiar with wintering birds and he immediately confirmed the ID. Since then Peter has contacted David Bakewell and I have sent details to Peter Kennerley, both of whom worked on the important early paper about these “lost” birds.
Martin Hale a friend from Hong Kong had asked me to keep an eye out for W-F Pls a week ago as he hasn’t seen them before so it was coincidental that I found the birds a few days later.
I intend to alter all my June birdwatching plans as I want to monitor both sites during the breeding period. Dahu beach has more problems for the birds as they are putting in sewers which involves a bulldozer, there are also a number of itinerant fishermen living on the beach along with their dogs so egg stealing could be a problem. But there are very few Gulls present which is a bonus . The other beach is practically deserted and I only found four small boys playing so there are no immediate threats to the birds nesting habits.
A very exciting but exhausting day which involved about 16-18kms of walking on sandy beaches but what a day.