Nordmann’s Greenshank

Another highlight from the trip to Dandong was the remarkable total of Nordmann’s Greenshanks (Tringa guttifer) that we observed at a high-tide roost.  Totals of 17, 17 and 16 were recorded on my three visits and, on one of the days, local birder Bai Qingquan recorded at least a further 7 from a different location at the same time, making a minimum count of 24 at this important stopover site.  Nordmann’s Greenshank is officially “endangered” with a population estimate of around 500-1,000 individuals.  It breeds in eastern Siberia along the western and northern coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk and also on Sakhalin Island, wintering in south-east Asia (Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia etc) and is encountered on migration along coastal China from Hong Kong north to Liaoning Province.  It’s population is declining, almost certainly related to habitat destruction primarily on its wintering grounds and stopover sites.

We did not try to get close to these birds for fear of flushing them from their roost but the occasional pass by the local Peregrine and even the odd Black-tailed Gull kept them on their toes and, on several occasions, the flocks took to the air, allowing us to hear the air through their wings as they wheeled around in front of us.. a spectacular sight and sound.  It was interesting that the Nordmann’s seemed to associate with the Grey Plover.

Grey Plovers, Donggang, Dandong, Liaoning Province. The wheeling flocks were a lovely sight.
Nordmann’s Greenshank in flight (with Grey Plover), Donggang, Dandong, Laioning Province. Nordmann’s seem to like Grey Plovers!
Nordmann’s Greenshanks with Grey Plovers.

Having North Korea as a backdrop added human interest to the birding here.

A shellfish picker works the low tide with North Korea just the other side of the Yalu river.
A list of what not to do on the North Korean border. Needless to say, we did as we were told..

And other waders, most in splendid breeding plumage, were a sight to behold.

Two Asian Dowitchers (the small orangey blobs in this awful photo) were a welcome addition to the high tide roost.
“Eastern” Black-tailed Godwits. Beautiful birds.
Our search for Spoon-billed Sandpiper proved fruitless (a little early) but breeding plumaged Red-necked Stints were a joy to watch.

Now, you’ve all heard of the “Magic Woods” at Beidaihe….  well, not to be outdone, Donggang has its own ‘not of this Earth’ site.  Here’s introducing the “Harry Potter Hedge”!

The “Harry Potter Hedge”… every day it would wow us with magical appearances.

Out of thin air it produced a Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Rufous-tailed Robin, Siberian Blue Robin, Siberian Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Pechora Pipit, Siberian Rubythroat, Oriental Scops Owl and much much more..

Finally, just for fun, here are a couple of photos of wader flocks…  Photo 1 is beginner level.  It has four wader species.. can you identify them?  Photo 2 is a little tougher… it contains 6 species.  A *glittering prize* awaits the first person to list them all correctly.

Photo 1 (Beginners Level). There are 4 wader species in this image. Can you name them?
Photo 2 (Advanced Level). There are 6 species in this photo. Can you name them?

A Surfeit of Sibes

Dandong wasn’t just a wader bonanza (17 Nordmann’s Greenshanks roosting with 2 Asian Dowitchers was really something!) but also a celebration of Siberian migrants.  We encountered Siberian Rubythroats and both Siberian Blue and Rufous-tailed Robins bobbing along the sea wall, Mugimaki, Red-throated, Blue and White and Yellow-rumped Flycatchers feeding on the leeward side of the hedges and Siberian, Grey-backed and Eyebrowed Thrushes skulking in thickets.  Not to mention Eastern Crowned, Arctic (Kamchatka!), Pale-legged, Yellow-browed, Dusky and Radde’s Warblers entertaining us from the boughs and Brown Shrikes seemingly on every perch.  Fantastic stuff.  So, in a tribute to ‘Sibes’, here are a few images.

Siberian Blue Robin (first summer male), Donggang, 12 May 2012
Siberian Blue Robin, Donggang, 12 May 2012. This individual belied the species’ reputation as a skulker and posed beautifully for the camera.
Siberian Rubythroat (male), Donggang, 12 May 2012. Imagine this turning up on your local headland in the UK…
Siberian Rubythroat (female), Donggang, 12 May 2012.
Mugimaki Flycatcher, Donggang, 12 May 2012.
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Donggang, 13 May 2012
Siberian Thrush (female), Donggang, 13 May 2012. This supreme skulker flew right by me after being flushed by a lorry along a main road. I rattled off 6 images and only this one was in focus.
Rufous-tailed Robin, Donggang, 11 May 2012. An understated bird but with bags of character.
Brown Shrike, Donggang, 12 May 2012

And turning around 180 degrees revealed an interesting backdrop – the border with North Korea.  This boat flew the flag of the DPRK.

A North Korean (fishing?) boat heading out to sea on the falling tide. Birding along the North Korean border added extra spice to an already spicy birding trip.


Black-winged Cuckooshrike

I am still wading (no pun intended) through my sightings and images from a shorebirding trip to Donggang, Dandong, last weekend with Paul Holt and local birder, Bai Qingquan.  The highlights were many.  One of the surprises was the amount of passerine migrants that we saw along the newly planted trees that lined the sea wall.. every day we saw buntings, pipits, flycatchers, thrushes and robins which made the walk to the wader high tide roost a real treat.  And it was here that we found the bird of the trip – a Kamchatka Warbler (see previous post).  Another, more mature, hedgerow to the north of the wader high tide roost produced another very special bird and the second highlight of the trip – a Black-winged Cuckoo Shrike.  This is the first record of this species in Liaoning Province and possibly the most northerly record in mainland China.

We had just seen a Brown-eared Bulbul making its way south, noisily, along the sea wall and just a few minutes later a similar-sized bird flew north along the landward side of the hedge.  Bai Qingquan picked it up and both he and I saw it briefly as it flashed by.. what was it?  Paul was on the other side of the hedge and missed it.  Both Bai and I had never seen this bird before..  sort of cuckoo-shaped but we had seen some white on the wing.  Luckily it perched up in a tree a 100 metres or so to the north.  Although it was mostly obscured, we could just see its tail which looked cuckoo-like and we speculated that it could be some sort of cuckoo or hawk cuckoo..  but the white in the wing didn’t tally..  We crept forward and then it flew, luckily just a few metres, and this time sat up in full view.  Paul very quickly identified it as a Black-winged Cuckooshrike.  We were able to secure some pretty good views for about 30 minutes as it fed along the hedgerow.  Bai “high-fived” us..  a new Liaoning bird!

Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Donggang, Dandong, 11 May 2012. The first record in Liaoning Province and, possibly, the most northerly record of this species in China.
Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Donggang, Dandong, 11 May 2012. The white panels in the wings were not always as obvious as shown here.

The cuckooshrike clearly liked the area as we saw it again the following day and again on our last morning..  Isn’t migration brilliant!

Kamchatka Leaf Warbler

The outstanding bird, among many highlights of a trip to Donggang, Dandong in Liaoning Province, was a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus).  This bird is one of the newly recognised Arctic Warbler splits.  See here for the paper by Per Alström et al that presents the rationale behind the taxonomic decision.  The conclusion of the paper states that:

“..the species from continental Eurasia and Alaska should be called Phylloscopus borealis (Arctic Warbler), the one from Kamchatka, Sakhalin and Hokkaido Phylloscopus examinandus (Kamchatka Leaf Warbler) and the one from the rest of Japan Phylloscopus xanthodryas (Japanese Leaf Warbler).”

It appears that this is only the 2nd record of examinandus for China, the first being a specimen collected from Fujian Province, referred to in an article in the Journal of The Asiatic Society of Bengal (29: 265) by Swinhoe in 1860.

The bird was discovered along a relatively new sea wall lined with young trees (a result of recent reclamation work).  Paul Holt and I were checking the shorebirds on the mudflats along a 2-3 km stretch of the coast road (Binhai Lu) alongside the Yalu River, right on the border between China and North Korea.  Every few minutes we would walk upstream and begin to check the next group of birds.  We were enjoying splendid views of Red-necked Stint, Terek Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Far Eastern Curlew, Saunders’ Gulls and many more species – a real spectacle on the falling tide.  As we were walking between watchpoints, we heard an unfamiliar call…  I thought it sounded a little like a flycatcher – a series of rapid low to mid-pitched notes – and thought nothing else of it (we had been seeing several Asian Brown, Yellow-rumped and Red-throated Flycatchers along that stretch of road).  However, Paul knew immediately it was different and might be something interesting.  We scanned the area of trees from where the call came from and soon picked up an ‘Arctic Warbler’..  it called repeatedly for about 20 seconds but no sooner as I had grabbed my video camera to record the call, the bird fell silent and did not call again.  We watched the bird for a few minutes as it flitted from tree to tree.  It appeared quite yellow and buff for a standard Arctic Warbler with a  yellowish wash on the throat and upper breast and a buffy supercilium.  Neither of us had seen an Arctic Warbler like this before.  Luckily, our driver was parked nearby and Paul’s laptop was in the car, on which were the calls of the three ‘Arctic Warbler’ species.  We listened to the calls and immediately knew that the call we had heard was of Phylloscopus examinandus  (Kamchatka Leaf Warbler).  We quickly walked back to where the bird had been and, after a few minutes of searching, we relocated it along a roadside bank, just inland from the original location.  With a bit of patience it showed quite well, even though the light was bad (heavily overcast).  We took some images that captured the features of the bird as we were seeing it in the field.  After about an hour, and with the light fading, we eventually left the site having secured lots of images but, unfortunately, without a sound recording of the call; it didn’t call a single time after that initial burst when we first saw it.

Paul knew it would be a good record and certainly a first record for Liaoning Province.  What we didn’t know was that it would be the first record (that we are aware of) for China since that 19th century specimen referred to by Swinhoe!

Of course, this species has almost certainly been overlooked and birders will only have been looking for these new species since Per Alström’s paper was published in 2010, so I am sure there will be more records to come…  As a bird that breeds in Kamchatka, it must pass through eastern China on migration.  Even so, it’s pretty cool to be involved with a first record for China for over 100 years!  It’s a fantastic tribute to Paul’s birding skill that he picked up the unusual call and nailed the record..

Images below.

Kamchatka Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus), Donggang, Dandong, Liaoning Province, 12 May 2012. Probably the first record for China since a specimen was collected in the 1800s. Note the buffy supercilium and yellow wash on the underparts, both clearly seen in the field.
Kamchatka Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus), Donggang, Dandong, 12 May 2012.  The yellowish wash down the centre of the breast can be see clearly on this image.
Kamchatka Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus), Donggang, Dandong, Liaoning Province, 12 May 2012. Although out of focus, a yellowish wash on the vent can be seen clearly in this image.

The calls and songs of the three species of “Arctic Warbler” can be found here.  It should be noted that, at present, vocalisations are the only way to definitively identify these three species.  However, given the plumage features noted on this bird, it may not be too long before a suite of features allows non-calling/singing birds to be separated in the field.

Now you know what to look for, I hope you find one for yourself…!