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View from The Bund on the overcast day we were there.

View from The Bund on the overcast day we were there.

“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.

Dave - all dressed up and ready for the awards presentation, the reason that we were in Shanghai.

Dave – all dressed up and ready for the awards presentation, the reason that we were in Shanghai.

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.

Images of fish and other oceanic creatures were scattered about the beautiful blue and gold enamel floor.

Images of fish and other oceanic creatures were scattered about the beautiful blue and gold 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.

Probable Mongolian Gull on the Huangpu River.

Probable Mongolian Gull on the Huangpu River.

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.

Red-flanked Bluetail in Shanghai's Century Park.

Red-flanked Bluetail in Shanghai’s Century Park.

Dave and I did a little more sightseeing, had a nice dinner, and flew back to Shenzhen the next morning.

Dim sum for Dave, Amber, and me.

Dim sum for Dave, Amber, and me.

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.

Making dumplings with Amber and Rachel's father.  It's harder than I expected.  Mine barely held together when they were cooked.

Making dumplings with Amber and Rachel’s father.  It’s harder than I expected.  Mine barely held together when they were cooked.

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.

Amber and Trissie crossing the hanging bridge at Evergreen Resort.

Amber and Trissie crossing the hanging bridge at Evergreen Resort.

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.

Amber loves climbing trees.

Amber loves climbing trees.

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.

Sweeping up fallen flowers in Shenzhen City Park. I have observed this "cleaning up" in all of Shenzhen's city parks.

Sweeping up fallen flowers in Shenzhen City Park. I have observed this “cleaning up” in all of Shenzhen’s city parks.

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.

Masked Laughingthrush, a very common bird in Southern China.

Masked Laughingthrush, a very common bird in Southern China.

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.

Asian Koels could be heard calling at nearly every park I visited in Shenzhen.

Asian Koels could be heard calling at nearly every park I visited in Shenzhen.

Unidentified damselfly.

Unidentified damselfly.

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.

Clearwing Tiger Moths at Fairy Lake Botanical Garden, perhaps the nature highlight of the trip.

Clearwing Tiger Moths at Fairy Lake Botanical Garden, perhaps the nature highlight of the trip.

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.

Stilt houses at Tai O.

Stilt houses at Tai O.

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.

Water Buffalo and Cattle Egret at Pui O.

Water Buffalo and Cattle Egret at Pui O.

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.

Intermediate Egret at Pui O.

Intermediate Egret at Pui O.

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.

White-shouldered Starling. Many species of birds were attracted to these trees with huge flowers.

White-shouldered Starling. Many species of birds were attracted to these trees with huge flowers.

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.

Amber the explorer.

Amber the explorer.

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Dave and Amber

Dave & Amber

After my birding trip to Poyang Lake and Wuyuan, I spent two weeks with my son Dave, his girlfriend Trissie, and their eighteen-month-old daughter.

Amber making friends

Amber making friends

Amber is a beautiful little girl and she attracted compliments everywhere we went. She likes Mommy or Daddy in sight, but is otherwise quite bold and unafraid. She makes friends easily, both human and canine. She loves climbing and enjoys playgrounds, trees, and stairs. She liked the slide at Evergreen Resort, too, and could have played on it all day. She is adventurous with food and will eat anything, even peppers that were too hot for me. Amber is like her Daddy in many ways. I remembered Dave as a baby when I tried to get Amber to sit still for a story. I had no more luck reading to her than I’d had with Dave 45 years ago.

Amber and Trissie playing with bubbles while waiting for the rain to stop.

Amber and Trissie playing with bubbles while waiting for the rain to stop.

We quickly settled into a routine in which I went birding alone on weekday mornings. I feel totally safe in China and had ventured out a little on my own on previous trips. I knew that the biggest challenge would be communication. Very few Chinese speak English (including taxi drivers), so Trissie wrote the names of the parks that I wanted to visit in Mandarin as well as directions for getting home. The first day that I got a taxi by myself things went smoothly and I was thrilled to find a life bird, Scaly Thrush, at Da Sha He Park.

Scaly Thrush.  A life bird that I found by myself.

Scaly Thrush. A life bird that I found by myself in Shenzhen.

HomeOne day, I decided to take a taxi to a park close to the apartment and then walk home. I naively got in a taxi and the driver started down the road. I showed him my directions and could see that something was wrong. I called Trissie and she talked to the driver. And, then I talked to Trissie. She said “He doesn’t know where the park is. Get out.” I needed her help to even get the driver to stop. Soon I was standing on a very busy street, not knowing where I was, or how to get to the park or back home. I quickly learned to never get in a taxi without first showing the little piece of paper with my destination to the driver and getting a nod “yes”. The next two taxis that stopped that morning both shook their heads “no.” Finally, a bike taxi stopped. I showed him the piece of paper with the park address, he shook his head “yes” and motioned for me to get on the bike. After yet another call to Trissie, I cautiously got on the bike, which was just like a regular bicycle, but with a bigger seat on the back for passengers. The park turned out to be very close and the bike taxi got me there quickly and safely.

At the park, I got a little confused about which path to take when I got to the top of the mountain. A very friendly woman called me over and I said “Nǐ hǎo,” the Chinese greeting for “Hello.” That started a long one-sided conversation in Mandarin. I am certain that the man who was with her told the woman that “Nǐ hǎo” was the only Chinese phrase I could understand, but the woman kept talking. She tried to give me a glossy flyer with photos of apartments and prices and her name and phone number. All I wanted was help getting off the mountain! After calling Trissie for help once again, the woman took me by the arm and led me down the mountain path. I could not make her understand that I wanted to go slowly and look for birds on the way. Finally, she let me go when we neared the park entrance and I sneaked back to search for birds.

Oriental Magpie-Robin

Oriental Magpie-Robin. A common bird in South China.

My taxi experiences were inconsistent, but it was usually easier to get to a park than to get back home. Getting home from the park farthest away was easy one day and took four taxis the next day before a driver shook his head “yes” when I showed him my directions.

The phone calls to Trissie were made using a phone that she and Dave had loaned to me. I did not check into using my own phone as I assumed that it would be prohibitively expensive and/or just plain not work. So, I could communicate within China, but not with friends at home. I could receive email, but could not send messages. Facebook is banned in China, so that was not an option either. Finally, I figured out that instant message programs that work over Wi-Fi were easy and reliable, but I had not planned for their use in advance. Next time I’ll be better prepared.

Asian Koel (female)

Asian Koel (female)

All the challenges of getting around by myself were worth it, though. I enjoyed the morning birding and found one more life bird on my own, Asian Koel. It’s a rather common bird and I found two males and two females before the trip was over. Many birds I had seen only once before, like this Common Tailorbird.  I had to work hard to identify them, but even poor photos helped.  I couldn’t get both ends of the Tailorbird in the same photo, but these two together nailed the ID.

Common Tailorbird tail

Common Tailorbird tail

Common Tailorbird

Common Tailorbird front end

I also had to work very hard to get a photo of this Little Ringed Plover. I never could see the bird in the viewfinder, but had to just point the camera in the right direction and snap a photo.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

The water birds at Shenzhen Mangrove Coastal Ecological Park were easier to identify and photograph. I saw dozens of my ABA nemesis bird, Eurasian Wigeon, along with Northern Shoveler, Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Tufted Duck, and many others.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

Little Egret

Little Egret

The last bird that I saw in Shenzhen was this lovely female Red-flanked Bluetail. I was disappointed in the park I visited that day, but when I saw this bird as I was leaving, she made the morning worthwhile!

Red-flanked Bluetail at Zhongshan Park in Shenzhen

Red-flanked Bluetail at Zhongshan Park in Shenzhen

Birding alone in a foreign country is a great way to learn birds. I was able to identify 51 species in two weeks. I noticed details (and will remember them) much better than when I had a guide. I would not want to do all of my birding alone, but it’s a great complement to a few days with a guide and I look forward to doing it again.

Red-whiskered Bulbul - a common bird, but one of my favorites.

Red-whiskered Bulbul – a common bird, but one of my favorites.

 

I enjoyed the experience of living in China for nearly three weeks rather than visiting as a tourist. I thank Dave and Trissie for doing so much to make it easy and comfortable for me. The dates for this part of the trip were February 24 to March 10, 2014. More photos of Amber can be seen in my Flickr set Amber – Feb/March 2014. Photos of the birds that I saw in China (including the first part of the trip) are in my Flickr set China – Feb/March 2014 (Birds).

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Oriental Storks in flight

Oriental Storks at Poyang Lake

Dave and Trissie were expecting Amber when I visited China in 2012, so I was long over-due to see my youngest grandchild.  I wanted to visit in winter when I could also see wintering birds at Poyang Lake.  So, my targets for this trip were Siberian, Hooded, and White-naped Cranes; Oriental Storks; and 18-month old Amber.  Well, I wanted to see Scaly-sided Mergansers, too, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit that into the title of this post.

My original plans were to leave home on February 14, spend a few days with my family and rest, and then fly to Nanchang for four days of birding.  However, winter storms delayed my departure and I was not able to leave until February 17.  I arrived in Hong Kong at 10:30 PM on the 18th and left the next morning for Nanchang.  The Nanchang flight was delayed, too, due to weather, but we didn’t know that until we arrived at the Shenzhen airport.  I sent Dave home and sat there alone waiting for my flight.  The airport was so cold that I was shivering even with a thick Sherpa fleece, I was exhausted, I had a headache, and my shoulder and tummy hurt.

Crested Myna

Crested Mynas were common everywhere in China

Menxiu Tong of China Wild Tour had been our local guide for the 2012 Zoothera trip and I was looking forward to birding with him again.  Menxiu met me in Nanchang as planned and we had dinner and a good night’s rest.  The next morning, Thursday, February 20, we headed to Poyang Lake.  Our birding got off to a slow start due to cold and fog, but we found quite a few birds as the day warmed up, including two of our targets – Oriental Stork and Hooded Crane.  We did not get as close to the birds as I had hoped, but we had satisfying scope views.

Hooded Crane family 2

Hooded Crane family

On Friday, we found the other three crane species that regularly winter at Poyang Lake – Siberian, Common, and White-naped.  The White-naped Cranes were quite far out, but unmistakable.  Another species that I particularly enjoyed was Swan Goose.  We had long, close looks at a flock near the road.

Swan Geese

Swan Geese

After lunch on Friday, we headed to Wuyuan, where our target was Scaly-sided Merganser.  Wuyuan had been one of my favorite locations in 2012 and we returned to some of the same birding spots on Saturday.  First was the jungle path with rice paddies on one side and the river on the other.  We had hoped to find the mergansers on the river there, but we did not see them, so we enjoyed the birds that we did find.  It was especially nice to have great looks at a Collared Owlet.

Collared Owlet

Collared Owlet

Pied Falconet

Pied Falconet

On Saturday afternoon, we visited the little island where the Courtois’s Laughingthrushes breed, which was lovely in winter, too, and the only location in my entire three plus weeks in China where I saw woodpeckers.  We saw one of Wuyuan’s avian stars, Pied Falconet, and watched it go after (unsuccessfully) an Orange-bellied Leafbird that was larger than the Falconet.  A lovely female Plumbeous Redstart entertained me for quite a while as she sallied up for insects and then repeatedly landed on the same rock in the river.  Eurasian Jays were as gorgeous as I remembered from my first visit.

Plumbeous Redstart female

Female Plumbeous Redstart

We completed Saturday’s birding with a drive along the river, again hoping for Scaly-sided Mergansers, but not finding them.  At dinner that night, we talked about our options.  Menxiu’s plan was to return to the same spot we had birded in the morning and walk the nearly impenetrable jungle path by the river.  This “path” through thick bamboo was the only birding that I had opted out of on our 2012 trip.  I had simply said that I could not do it and waited under a lovely tree by the river while the others continued pushing through the jungle.  This time I whined and complained, but Menxiu was confident that we would see the mergansers in the river along that trail, so I agreed to his plan.

Eurasian Jay

Eurasian Jay

That Saturday night dinner was our third or fourth meal at the same restaurant in Wuyuan.  Menxiu liked it because it was on a side street where the locals ate.  What I remember is the toilet.  In China, they do not have “restrooms” or “bathrooms,” but simply “toilets.”  This one featured the usual squat toilet, but it had a bonus – a tub of water right next to the toilet with four fish swimming in it.  While it seemed odd to me, later Trissie told me that Chinese would never buy dead fish as we do.  They want their fish fresh so will only buy them live.  At that restaurant, you could visit the toilet and pick out the fish for your meal at the same time!  I have to say, though, that I generally enjoy the food in China and have never been sick there with anything other than a cold.

Another Wuyuan specialty is green dumplings.  I had fallen in love with them in 2012 and enjoyed having these wonderful dumplings for breakfast both mornings in Wuyuan.  I scrutinized them a little closer this time and it appeared that the filling was tofu and vegetables.  They are perfectly seasoned and great with hot sauce.

Black Eagle

Black Eagle

Menxiu surprised me on Sunday morning with a drive to the river in our van rather than a return to the dreaded jungle path.  We found a pair of Scaly-sided Mergansers right away and got good looks at them.  We enjoyed the rest of the morning walking a road alongside the river.  While I had missed a lot of birds earlier in the trip due to my poor vision, I saw nearly everything that morning.  And, what wonderful birds we saw!  A flock of Gray-headed Parrotbills were right over our heads in a little rice paddy.  Several Gray-sided Scimitar-Babblers allowed us quality views, including one bird just a few feet away foraging on the ground and oblivious to our presence.  Other sightings that morning included Mandarin and Spot-billed Duck, Black Eagle, Brown Crake, a male Fork-tailed Sunbird glistening in the sun, and my life Red-flanked Bluetail.  It was a magical morning that I will always remember.

Gray-headed Parrotbill

Gray-headed Parrotbill

After lunch, we returned one more time to the Laughingthrush island, and then headed to Nanchang and the airport.  We had found all of our target birds and enjoyed some wonderful winter birding.  Thanks to Menxiu Tong of China Wild Tour for leading this private trip for me.  Menxiu’s photos of the trip can be found on Facebook in his album Poyang Lake and Wuyuan Birding Tour, February 2014.

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The Chinese Crested Tern, a close relative of the Sandwich Tern, was our goal for the final segment of the Zoothera Global Birding trip to China in May 2012.  This Critically Endangered tern with a total population of less than 50 birds is much rarer than the Giant Panda.  It is declining rapidly for various reasons, including egg collection (for food) and the aggressive development of China’s coast with its resulting habitat loss.

Little Tern.  Lovely, but not our target.

After a short early afternoon flight from Nanchang to Fuzhou, we started out towards the MinJiang Estuary.  The roads were so narrow that we had to switch to two smaller vehicles for this part of the trip.  After we drove as close as possible, a boatman took us a few kilometres along the channel to the edge of the estuary.  We then waded across a coastal tidal creek and were finally able to start searching for the tern.  We saw Great Crested Tern, Little Tern, and shorebirds, but the Chinese Crested Tern eluded us except for a fleeting fly-over observed by the others.  But I did not see them well enough to count.  The dense mist made viewing conditions awful and I missed many of the shorebirds, too.  We returned to the boat and were ferried to our vehicles in the fading light.

Kentish Plover

The next morning we left the hotel at 4:40 AM to try again for the tern.  The weather was even worse than the first day with rain in addition to the mist.  Luckily, the rain stopped by the time we reached the channel to the estuary.  Our boatman ferried us across, but the mist was still very dense and we could not see more than 50 yards.  We decided to wade across the channel to the other side of the estuary.  Walking out there was like plodding through four inches of mud the consistency of glue with several inches of water on top of it.  My wellingtons were a size too big and I couldn’t get my balance.  With each step, as I pulled one foot out of the muck, the other foot sunk deeper.  Finally, I lost my equilibrium and the mud won, sucking me down until my clothes and binoculars were covered with the thick gooey stuff.  Menxiu, our Chinese guide, saw what happened and came back to pull me out of the muck.  I laughed and trudged on.

Shelley at MinJiang Estuary.  Photo by Raymond Shewan.

The mist continued to present such a challenge that I asked if anyone was interested in splitting the group so that some of us could leave.  Two others were also ready to go, so we left with Menxiu, while Nick and the remaining two birders stayed to continue their search for the tern.

Chinese Crested Tern. My big miss for the trip.

I was so happy to be off of the mud flats that I didn’t care if I missed the tern.  Our little group immediately started seeing new birds as soon as we were back on solid ground.  I finally had a great look at a Eurasian Hoopoe, which I had missed earlier in the trip.  And we saw two Black-winged Cuckooshrikes mating!  The others soon caught up with us, their luck having changed shortly after we left.  They were elated with their views of the Chinese Crested Terns.  So, everyone was satisfied with their morning as we set off for lunch and then Fuzhou National Forest Park.

The park was just what its name implied – a park in a forest – and it was one of the most beautiful places that we visited.  We saw some nice birds that afternoon, including a Blue Magpie.

Blue Magpie (also called Red-billed Blue Magpie)

One of the group’s favorites was this Collared Owlet.

Collared Owlet

The next morning we went to Fuzhou National Forest Park again.  I loved the park, but I was getting tired by the last few days of the trip.  While I was tired with a general lack of energy, some of the others were tired of Chinese food.  We actually broke down and ate at KFC a couple of times.  The food was similar to any other KFC, but the drinks were different.  There were no diet drinks and no water; just Coke and fruit juice.  One frustration we had during the entire trip was the unavailability of cold water to drink.  Early on, we had given up asking for water and just started drinking beer with every lunch and dinner.  Beer was served refreshingly icy cold and it seemed to be cheaper than water.

At Fuzhou National Forest Park, the paths were pretty much constant up and down.  After an hour or so, I announced that I wanted to go back to the car to wait for the group.  But, I learned that the trail that we were on was a loop and we were in the middle.  There was no easy way back to the car.  So, I continued on with the group and was glad that I stuck it out.  The last new bird of the trip was a stunning Slaty-backed Forktail, which I would have missed if I had gone back.  Another fun sighting was this family of Great Tits bathing.

Great Tit family bathing at Fuzhou National Forest Park.

Fuzhou National Forest Park also had quite a few butterflies.  My favorite was this Papilio paris.  Those metallic greenish blue spots on the hindwing are rather large and shimmer when this gorgeous butterfly is in flight.

Papilio paris, my favorite butterfly of the trip.

After a lovely but tiring morning, we headed to the airport for our flight to Shanghai.  It was the end of the Zoothera birding trip.  I said “goodbye” to Nick and the other guys in our group.  They had all been kind, patient, and helpful and we had shared many laughs together in addition to seeing rare and wonderful birds.  I had not just survived; I had enjoyed the trip.  The next morning, I took a flight to Beijing to meet my son, Dave.

Thanks once more to Tony Mills for the use of his photos. For more of Tony’s work, see Photo Art by Tony Mills and Not Just Birds.  For Nick’s official trip report, see SE China 2012.  The dates for this part of the trip were May 13-15, 2012.

Crested Myna, a bird frequently seen on the trip.

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The morning after our arrival in Nanchang, we made the long drive to Wuyishan National Key Nature Reserve.  But first we had to have breakfast.  In China, breakfast food is frequently the same as dinner, but noodle shops are also popular.  They all looked pretty much the same, so the photo below may or may not be where we ate breakfast on our first morning.  One of the regional specialties of this area is green dumplings, which were one of my favorite foods in China.  I have no idea what was in them, but they were delicious.  On some days, we started out for birding before the noodle shops opened at 6 AM, but when we did indulge in breakfast, it was usually a bowl of noodles with a fried egg and green dumplings.

Wuyishan National Key Nature Reserve is the largest and the most comprehensive surviving semi-subtropical forest in southeast China.  While we saw devastating habitat loss in much of China, especially along the coast, the Chinese seem to be continuing twelve centuries of tradition in protecting areas in the Wuyi Mountains.  The Wuyishan Reserve became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1987 and a UNESCO World Heritage  site in 1999 .  (Wuyishan Biosphere Reserve info and Wuyishan World Heritage info.)

The reserve’s winding road to Huanggang Mountain, the highest peak in the Wuyi range at 7080 feet, provided spectacular views of the mountains, their gentle waterfalls, and changing vegetation as we ascended the mountain, progressing from tea and bamboo to evergreen broad-leaved forest to the treeless summit.  We were told that the number of visitors is limited and that the fees to enter the park are quite high.  These restrictions gave us our own private escort and we saw no other tourists during our two days in the park.  I finally found this news article which describes the restricted access to the reserve which began in 2009 to protect the environment.

Wuyishan

Wuyishan

Wuyishan National Key Nature Reserve is reputedly the easiest place in the world to see Cabot’s Tragopan, a vulnerable species which is endemic to southeast China.  We were fortunate to find this splendid male on our first afternoon in the reserve.

Cabot's Tragopan

Cabot’s Tragopan

We observed him from our minibus for 20 minutes, only a few feet from the road feeding in small trees.  No words are adequate to describe that head, but the rest of the bird was equally fascinating.  The pattern on his back looked like it was created with intricate bead work which seemed to fade to lace on the ends of the wings and tail.  That tragopan was the most gorgeous bird I’ve ever seen.

Cabot's Tragopan

Cabot’s Tragopan

The next morning we headed for the summit at 4:30 AM, but dense mist and high wind made for poor visibility and not much fun.  We had rain in the afternoon which became heavier during the night.  In between the showers, though, we did see some nice birds including the following.

Pygmy Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla, now called Pygmy Cupwing)

Pygmy Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla, now called Pygmy Cupwing)

Fujian Fulvetta

Fujian Fulvetta

White-browed Shrike-babbler

White-browed Shrike-babbler

Hartert's Warbler

Hartert’s Warbler

On our last morning in the Wuyishan Reserve, we drove to the summit again and were much luckier with the weather than we had been the previous morning.

Wuyishan summit

Wuyishan summit

We missed the Upland Pipits that we’d hoped for, but all had nice views of Rosy Pipits and a few other birds including this Brown Bush Warbler.

Brown Bush Warbler

Brown Bush Warbler

A monument proudly proclaimed that we were at the highest peak of the Wuyi Mountains.

Wuyishan was my favorite part of the trip, so I was sad to leave, but we had more wonderful birds to see in other places, so it was back in our minibus for the long afternoon drive to Wuyuan.  Our target there was Courtois’s Laughingthrush, one of the world’s rarest birds with a wild population estimated at 200 – 250 individuals.  Much has been written about its rediscovery in 2000; previously it was known only from two museum specimens collected in 1919.  For a thorough accounting of the story see Little-known Oriental Bird: Courtois’s Laughingthrush.  Since that report, the Courtois’s Laughingthrush has been awarded full species status.

To say that I was not disappointed would be a huge understatement.  Here was a bird that was not only rare, but it was big, beautiful, colorful and gregarious.  Unlike most other Laughingthrushes, Courtois’s Laughingthrush nests in loose colonies.  We were fortunate to observe nest-building, mutual preening, and much interaction between the 50 or so birds in the area that we visited.

Courtois's Laughingthrush

Courtois’s Laughingthrush

The little island in the middle of a river running by a small rural village where we saw the Courtois’s Laughingthrush was quite interesting.  The large trees on the island where the birds nest have been protected by the villagers for centuries and are probably the reason that the birds still survive.  The island was shared with many other bird species, dozens of chickens running around, and a water buffalo grazing.  In addition to our group, there were about about a dozen Chinese photographers admiring the Laughingthrushes.

In the river surrounding the island with the Courtois’s Laughingthrushes, we saw these gorgeous drake Mandarin Ducks.

Mandarin Ducks

Mandarin Ducks

Other great birds in Wuyuan included White-browed Laughingthrushes.

White-browed Laughingthrushes

White-browed Laughingthrushes

Also found nearby was a Long-billed Plover.  This species is not rare or endangered, but it was a target bird for the trip as its range is limited to East Asia.

Long-billed Plover

Long-billed Plover

On our second morning at Wuyuan, we had a surprising view of two Chinese Bamboo-partridges fighting on the side of the road.  This is a species rarely seen in the open.

Chinese Bamboo-partridge

Chinese Bamboo-partridge

Chinese Pond Heron is a common bird in China and I enjoyed seeing them in their finest breeding plumage.  In non-breeding plumage, they are just plain brown birds.

Chinese Pond Heron

Chinese Pond Heron

After three full days in Wuyuan, it was time to head to the airport once again for our flight to Fuzhou and the last part of our birding trip.

Thanks again to Tony Mills for the generous use of his photos in this post. For more of Tony’s work, see Photo Art by Tony Mills and Not Just Birds.

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I was the only woman, the only American, the least experienced birder, and the least physically fit participant in the Zoothera Global Birding trip to Southeast China in May. Fortunately for me, the leaders and other birders were very patient and helpful and we all had a good sense of humor. That help was needed as I had more difficulty that I expected keeping up and getting quality views of the birds. My birding at home was much better after my cataract surgery last year. And, I had just successfully climbed the Pinnacle Trail at Big Bend a couple of weeks earlier. But birding on mud flats and in bamboo forests in hot weather with inadequate sleep proved to be a challenge for me. The guys, however, considered this to be an “easy” trip.

The trip started at the Shanghai airport where I met Zoothera’s owner, Nick Bray, local China guide, Menxiu Tong, and the five other birders on the morning of May 4, 2012. One of the birders, Tony Mills, is a semi-professional photographer and he generously provided all of the photos in this post. For more of Tony’s work, see his website, Photo Art by Tony Mills.

We headed out right away towards the coast. A great little spot right by the road gave us close views of several species including several Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

We also saw a Swinhoe’s Snipe at the same spot. Everyone was very excited about the snipe as it is less common than Pintal Snipe, but it is very difficult to see the difference between the two species. Our leaders agreed on the identification after watching the bird for 15 minutes or so and examining multiple photos of the bird. Tony and both of our leaders were skillful photographers which facilitated “instant replay” and allowed detailed study of the snipe in flight moments after we had watched it.

Swinhoe's Snipe

Swinhoe’s Snipe

A small wooded area further on provided a change of pace and new birds including this gorgeous Narcissus Flycatcher. In China, it’s the warblers that are dull and flycatchers that are bright and colorful.

Narcissus Flycatcher

After this exciting start to the trip, we settled in for the 4-hour drive to Rudong where we would spend the night and the next day and a half.  The photo below is our hotel in Rudong; the other places that we stayed were similar. Our accommodations for the trip were typical Chinese hotels – clean enough, safe, and air-conditioned, but very basic. The beds were hard, the rooms were small, and the bathrooms were one big room with a drain in the middle of the floor and no separate shower enclosure. Another odd bathroom feature in most rooms was a full-length window between the shower and the bedroom. Our hotels usually had western style toilets, a luxury as restaurants and other public places normally had squat toilets.

Rudong, China

Rudong, China

We started our first morning in Rudong at the “Magic Forest”, a small wooded area that attracts migrants. The star of the forest that day was this spectacular male Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher.

Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher

Our target in Rudong was Spoon-billed Sandpiper. This critically endangered sandpiper had captured my heart a couple of years ago and was the most important bird of the trip for me. I had expected to break down sobbing when I actually saw the bird, either from joy, or sadness that this charismatic little sandpiper is on the verge of extinction. Surprisingly, the actual sighting of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was a non-emotional, somewhat disappointing event for me. First, we were not able to get close and had only distant scope views. Second, the sandpiper was difficult to identify. It looks unmistakable in the field guides, but the actual bird looks very much like a Red-necked Stint unless it holds it head just right so that you can see its spoon-shaped bill. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to add Spoon-billed Sandpiper to my life list. In Tony’s photo below, the Spoonie is in front, just right of the Dunlin.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other shorebirds

Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other shorebirds

Here is a sampling of other birds we saw along the coast on our first day there.

Gray-headed Lapwing

Gray-headed Lapwing

Black-winged Stilts

Black-winged Stilts

Saunder’s Gull

Our last stop for the day was the ‘new’ Magic Forest, a small area of isolated trees and scrub, where migrants had arrived during the afternoon. This Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica) appeared to be as excited as we were and flew around several times to escape us, but we all got great views of this gorgeous owl.

Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica)

Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica)

The next morning we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Boobook was in the same area along with many new migrants that had arrived overnight. One of the birds that I enjoyed seeing wasn’t rare at all, but this sweet Oriental Turtle Dove on her nest.

Oriental Turtle Dove

Oriental Turtle Dove

After enjoying the Magic Forest for a couple of hours, we hurried out to the tidal flats for shorebirds. In addition to the expected birds, we found a nice group of Black-faced Spoonbills. This is another endangered bird with a global population of less than 3,000. I had seen them in Hong Kong in 2009 and found it interesting that their feeding style is completely different from our Roseate Spoonbill. Instead of using their bills to strain food from the water as their pink cousins do, Black-faced Spoonbills sweep their bills from side to side searching for small fish and shrimp.

Black-faced Spoonbills

Black-faced Spoonbills

Some of my favorite new shorebirds were the Sand-plovers. We saw Greater and Lesser Sand-plovers on both days.

Lesser Sand-plover

Lesser Sand-plover

The photo below is our group on the tidal flats at Rudong. I was as overwhelmed as it looks. There were birds everywhere, but not 20 feet away as I enjoyed in Florida, and most were new to me. But, of course, I was thrilled with this shorebird bonanza. After enjoying this spectacle, we returned to the hotel for lunch and headed to the airport for our flight to Nanchang and the next phase of our birding adventure in Southeast China.

On the beach at Rudong

On the beach at Rudong

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