“There are some birders,” said my son, Dave, as we walked along The Bund, a famous waterfront area in central Shanghai. Birding is unusual in China, so I could hardly believe it, but two men and a woman had binoculars and scopes fixed on gulls in the river. We walked up to them and introduced ourselves. Surprisingly, I was familiar with Craig Brelsford, an American birder living in Shanghai with his wife, Elaine Du, and their friend and fellow birder, Michael Grunwell, from the Facebook group Birding China. We all marveled at the coincidence of meeting there and had a great time talking about China, birds, websites (a common interest of Craig and Dave), and travel. Elaine was surprised that Dave has been to Baoshan, in the western province of Yunnan, and they compared notes on their trips there.
I had arrived in China a week earlier, on March 4, for my fourth trip to visit my oldest son who has lived in Shenzhen since January 2008. We were in Shanghai for one of Dave’s occasional jobs as an awards presenter for an organization similar to Guinness World Records. The Chinese take these awards very seriously and about 200 people attended the presentation. Three awards were given that day, including one for the world’s largest enamel floor.
Dave was done with his responsibilities shortly after noon, so we spent the afternoon exploring The Bund. Craig and Michael showed me a little group of Black-headed Gulls that I hadn’t picked up with my binoculars and we talked about the identity of the big white-headed gulls, which Michael was confident were Mongolian Gulls.
Dave and I had planned to go to Shanghai’s Century Park the next morning and Craig confirmed that our plan was a good one. He said that I could expect to find Pale Thrush there and I was pleased that I did find one right away. Life bird number one for this trip! A short time later Dave pointed out a bird perched on a branch of a nearby tree. When I started taking photographs, a young Chinese woman walked right over to where my camera was pointed and flushed the bird. All I’d seen was a crest like a tit or bunting and yellow on the throat. But that was enough to identify the bird as a Yellow-throated Bunting, another life bird.
The most interesting bird at Century Park was this Red-flanked Bluetail. After working with a millipede for quite a while, he finally swallowed it whole.
Dave and I did a little more sightseeing, had a nice dinner, and flew back to Shenzhen the next morning.
My previous trips included serious birding; this time I focused on spending time with Dave and my three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Amber. A bonus was meeting Dave’s girlfriend, Rachel, and her family.
I had arrived on a Friday evening, just in time to join Rachel’s family for their traditional Saturday dim sum the next day. The American equivalent of dim sum would be a family style meal consisting exclusively of shared appetizers. Dim sum originated in Guangzhou (formerly called Canton), just an hour from Shenzhen. It just may be my favorite type of Chinese food; I love trying so many different dishes. Food is an important part of Chinese culture and there is an abundance of it at every meal.
Shortly after we got back to Shenzhen, I spent a weekend with Amber and her mom, Trissie. We went to Evergreen Resort, a place we had visited in 2014, but this time we stayed overnight. The resort has lots of outside activities for kids, but it was hard to get Amber away from the hanging bridge. She is absolutely fearless and walked back and forth on the bridge until dark.
After the weekend, I was back at Dave’s and we quickly settled into a routine similar to my last visit. I usually went for a walk to nearby Shenzhen Central Park by myself each morning. Dave, Amber, and I did something together in the afternoon, and then Rachel joined us for dinner. Dave is the primary caregiver for his daughter and he works from home, so we had a lot of flexibility with our schedule.
The park was usually busy with people as the Chinese walk, talk, sit, dance, and generally enjoy their parks. Between the people and obsessive cleaning up, I thought that I might not see many birds. Still, I managed to see 30 species in Shenzhen Central Park. I can recognize the songs or calls of only a handful of birds, so I couldn’t bird by ear like I do at home and had to actually see the birds.
I was thrilled with Masked Laughingthrushes on my first visit to China. I saw them again on my second visit. By my third trip, I realized they were one of the most common birds in Guangdong Province. Regardless, they are one of my favorites.
Asian Koels symbolize city birding in China for me. I loved this proud, bold male singing from a treetop on the edge of the park with apartments in the background.
Dave and Rachel knew how much I loved going to parks, so they planned fun and interesting outings farther from home on the weekends. Shenzhen may be the greenest city in China with its many gorgeous parks. But in spite of much time spent outside, most Chinese seem rather removed from nature. When we found this little damselfly, Rachel’s first reaction was “get it away from me!” But, she saw my delight and was soon right there beside me getting as close as possible to get a photo with her iPhone.
Our most exciting nature find was these Clearwing Tiger Moths at Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. We spent quite a bit of time admiring and photographing these mating moths. We were on a narrow path and it wasn’t possible to pass us without seeing the objects of our attention. These gorgeous creatures caught the interest of everyone who came by.
I was able to plan one day dedicated to birding. Mike Kilburn, who had guided me for a day on my first trip in 2009, no longer works as a guide, but he generously invited me to join him for some birding in Hong Kong. Since I had spent very little time in Hong Kong, Dave and I decided to go a day early and do some sightseeing. We stayed in the area most tourists flock to, Tsim Sha Tsui in the central area of Kowloon. We enjoyed walking the streets, Kowloon Park, and the Science Museum.
The next day Mike took us to Lantau Island, the largest island in Hong Kong, which is less densely populated than the other Hong Kong islands and primarily consists of mountainous terrain. First we went to Tai O, a three-centuries-old fishing village which is famous for its waterways, stilt houses, fishing boats and scenery.
This was where I got my third and last life bird of the trip, Gray-faced Buzzard, when five birds flew over.
Next, Mike took us to Pui O, a more agricultural area on Lantau Island, which has a resident population of water buffaloes. Pui O is one of the few remaining areas where they still occur in Hong Kong.
I had my best look ever at Intermediate Egret here, which is just like its name suggests – an egret intermediate in size between Little Egret and Great Egret.
It was great to catch up with Mike and especially to hear about his new job as Senior Manager, Environment, Air Port Authority of Hong Kong. I was impressed that the airport had such a position and knew that no one could be more effective in that role than Mike. After an enjoyable day, it was all too soon to thank Mike and head back to Shenzhen.
The last few days were filled with family time and visits to the nearby Shenzhen Central Park. I was fascinated by three White-shouldered Starlings that arrived at the park just before my trip ended. I had seen them once before (during the Zoothera bird tour that was part of my 2012 trip), but I found these by myself. That always makes birds special to me and I had time to really study these birds.
I was in China for nearly the entire month of March, but it went quickly. After four trips, it now feels familiar and comfortable. I miss Dave and Amber and the birds of China, but not the seven flights of stairs to Dave’s apartment. I expect another trip is in my future, but for now it is good to be home and back to even more familiar and comfortable surroundings. More photos can be found in my Flickr albums China 2016 – Birds & Butterflies and China 2016 – People & Places.