A bright sunny day, though freezing cold, was the clarion call for birding. I feel almost guilty admitting that I have been in China for three months and have hardly done any birding in that time. A notable exception was a delightful day at Wai Po Marsh in Hong Kong in early November. However I am in a new job, studying hard outside of work and getting around without my own transport is difficult plus there is the not insignificant matter of the language barrier. As readers will know my enthusiasm for being in the field had waned too while in Thailand, due to a combination of family, work and study.
Nantong is at the heart of the planned development of the north side of the Yangtze river delta. The delta is home to Shanghai and a host of other huge cities, making it one of the most built up, developed and congested areas in China. Proximity to the sea means that air pollution is not usually as hazardous as in inland areas such as Beijing, further north. The north eastern area of the delta area remains undeveloped in industrial terms – high speed rail links are scheduled to open later this year which will, inter alia, have the effect of linking Nantong to Shanghai in about 35 minutes, a big improvement on the current 2.5 hours it takes by bus. Nantong is close to a number of important areas, known collectively as the East Asian Fyway, which are used by birds, notably Spoon-billed Sandpaper and other waders which stop off here during migration . There are important sites for cranes a couple of hours to the north. All are under threat. Add in that I doubt much birding is done in this locale so who knows what is actually out there to be displaced and destroyed by habitat loss.
Birding in China is going to be a whole new ball game, a precarious matter for a novice birder like myself. I know nothing about Chinese avifauna although my Thai experience, and even a few days in Tokyo, are a useful foundation. It took me a while to work out that the birds that feed in my trees were Chinese Bulbuls! Eurasian Blackbirds, which were not present in October, moved in to my estate while I was away over the Christmas periods. Lots of small unknown birds flirt around, usually when I don’t have my binoculars. The local park, Central Park, in Nantong’s National Economic and Technological Development Area, (‘NETDA’), holds a good number of species including the very common Eurasian Magpie and the elegant Azure-winged Magpie; I’ve seen a fair few Common Kingfishers here too as well as good numbers of Red-breasted Flycatchers and the very striking Daurian Redstart. Last Sunday, a female Daurian Redstart put the mix in and really had me working on separating it from the afore-mentioned flycatcher. The park has been colonised by large numbers of starlings which I can’t recognise and there are also lots of Eurasian Blackbirds too. So expect mistakes, and if you’re lucky, a few howlers!
I recently discovered Osmand maps which are available for android devices and possibly other platforms. I really recommend these maps, especially for China, as they have places names in Chinese and English and you can easily add notes and markers. Remember the Google empire is off limits here so unless you are running a VPN, Google Maps will not work for you here in China whether on a PC or mobile appliance.
From rummaging through Osmand’s Jiangsu map I noticed an an area of river fronting park land, one of a handful of such places not so far away from home and the fine weather was just the spur I needed. It involved a bus ride and then a walk but after a while the river front was signed. To be honest, it was rather bleak not withstanding the radiant sun: virtually all the land has industrial plant and therefore no surprises that I saw a grand total of two waders – both Common Sandpipers. However there were pockets of reeds and plantations along the riverside which yielded some nice birds: an unidentified bunting species, a Long-tailed Shrike, 5 Grey Herons from a distance had me wondering if they were to be my first encounter with cranes, another unidentified bunting species, and a small flock of what I imagine were Vinous-Throated Parrotbills foraging in some tall reeds, a white-eye species also performed a bit but my notes are insufficient for identification: I didn’t notice if it had chestnut flanks. There were a couple of other birds which flashed up only to disappear so great potential there. For me the bird of the day was the Red-flanked Bluetail. I need to confess I was wondering if it was a cyornis flycatcher but my notes this time helped subsequent identification as I had noted the blue tail and red flanks together with the olive/brown uppers. As I walked home I noted another one fitting the same description and relatively confiding – this was within a range which made me think I might have cleaned up with a 400 mm lens! I really didn’t get into the park proper as I spent all my time on the road that borders the river and only put my big toe into the park in the freezing cold of late afternoon. At a deserted car park/visitor centre a Common Kingfisher was noteworthy.
I’m returning to Thailand for the Chinese New Year and will return with the scope and tripod. I want to head north and see some cranes …