Shanghai’s Chongming Island is a well-known destination for birders, and will probably become even more important given the continued destruction of Nanhui. Yet it is generally recommended to go there in winter. In this post, I want to show that going there in summer may also be worth it.

One strange thing about Chongming is the inevitable presence of people fishing. Not professionally – these people come in SUVs and probably never recapture their gas money from the fish they catch (though come to think of it, neither do I with my bird photos). I once had a cat who loved to lick plastic bags, and while I find the pleasure in this hard to comprehend, it still seems more understandable to me than the joy (?) of catching extremely small fish.

Some of the temporary fishponds (or flooded fields?) are now being drained – a very attractive moment for the egrets and herons of Chongming.

Some differences in animal behavior are quite striking. The Little Egret, though relatively small and thus presumably vulnerable to predators, goes for a “f*ck this” approach – “I am white, and I do not care if anybody sees me”.

In contrast, the much bigger Purple Heron tries to be invisible as much as possible, not only by means of its color but also by sometimes taking up the posture of a professional Limbo dancer.

The Yellow Bittern is similarly secretive, but much more successful at being invisible, as it is much smaller.

If you are a person who enjoys analyzing the stuff regurgitated by bird chicks, you probably wish to have participated in a study looking at the diet of Yellow Bitterns in South Korea. This would have allowed you to summarize your experience in sentences such as “A total of 98 boluses regurgitated by 52 chicks aged 1 day to 11 days after hatching form the sample and are shown to contain 323 food items.” And after separating all the parts of the boluses and presumably weighing them, your conclusion would have been that “the most regularly occurring food items recorded are fish (63%) and insects (33%)” (the other 4% are the few remaining bits of chocolate and gummy bears brought to the chicks by their grandparents. This is ok as birds do not have teeth anyway).

I do not get too many comments on my blog posts, but it seems that whenever I write about jacanas – whether in Africa, Australia, or Asia – there is an unusually high number of reactions (well, maybe one or two rather than the usual zero) from female readers. Potentially, there are two different reasons for this – I think they both are at work, though usually not in the same person. One is from women who wish their husbands would participate more in parenting their children – as in jacanas, this is the sole job of the male. The other, slightly scarier one is from women who relish the idea of having what the smut literature calls a “reverse harem” – they seem to enjoy the fact that female jacanas try to mate with multiple males.

Side note: Indeed, if you follow the titles of newly published books, you will see that there is a constant flow of “Reverse harem” publications. Another puzzling thing to me, as for me, the ideal number of people to live with would be somewhere between zero and one but definitely not above 1. End of side note.

To female readers then: the Pheasant-tailed Jacana.

Women who like jacanas will probably also like Spotted Redshanks. According to the HBW, when breeding, male birds do most of the incubation and parenting while females often leave the nest up to one week before the eggs hatch. Dominic Couzens writes that “Before the end of incubation, usually a week before hatching, the females give up the pretense of parental interest entirely and … quickly depart south for, one assumes, a spot of well-deserved post-breeding molting and hassle-free feeding”.

An unfortunate consequence is that many adolescent Spotted Redshanks suffer from anxiety and a feeling of loss from never having seen their mother.

But maybe that is actually a good thing. According to Couzens, after laying the eggs, females sometimes immediately abandon their first mate and pair up with another male. Maybe better not to ever meet such a “mother” (given that I have been living in China for too long to be up-to-date regarding political correctness etc., I am not sure whether it is ok to use the word “slut”. My guess is it is not).

Of course, on Chongming, the Chinese Pond Heron is very common.

Where it is not – for example, in Japan – it will have difficulties finding a partner to mate.

The solution for one female Chinese Pond Heron in a Japanese heronry: mating with a Little Egret (source). Unfortunately, in the science of language, this does not sound particularly raunchy but rather like a rational decision: “A rare species such as the Chinese Pond Heron might choose heterospecific mates rather than abandoning all chances of reproduction.”

I can see how this line of thinking leads to all kinds of sci-fi types of thought (“would I mate with an alien if I was the last human on earth”, etc.), but on the one hand, this is not a sci-fi blog and I am not interested in science fiction (excluding of course Douglas Adams), and on the other hand, the answer from my side would be “no” anyway.

Chinese Pond Herons also grow on trees.

In “Plunder“, The Felice Brothers sing about people who “got machines that make machines and those machines make more machines”. On Chongming, the situation is not quite as complex. We only have Common Moorhens that make more Common Moorhens.

Though I guess those then go on to make more moorhens as well.

Serious side note: All songs I mention in this blog are songs I like and that are worth listening – I do not mention anything just for bird-related lyrics or as part of a joke. That means that

a. It is always worth following the links to these tracks, if you are interested in music and at least roughly share my taste in music

b. Should you do so and find that you do not like a song you thus listened to, you can be assured that you are wrong and that your taste in music is bad.

It is somewhat of a simplification, but basically there are two types of scientific papers – those that require a lot of hard work and clever thinking, and those that do not. Looking up recent papers on the Grey-headed Lapwing, I found one titled “Farmers’ Perception on Grey-headed Lapwing (Vanellus cinereus) Existence in Paddy Field Surrounding Gifu University, Japan”.

Some remarkable aspects of this paper:

It covered 10 farmers located near Gifu University, where the paper was written. How convenient.

It consisted basically of asking the farmers some questions via a questionnaire. How efficient.

It found that farmers basically ignore the existence of the lapwing in their fields. How surprising.

It concludes that human activity influences the breeding activity of the lapwing. Again, how surprising (though it is not quite clear to me how they got to that conclusion, as apparently, they did not send out questionnaires to the lapwings in question).

Now comes my question: Which of the two categories described do you think this paper belongs to?

This Cattle Egret has just read a paper stating that it would be 3.6 times more efficient in its foraging if there were cows around. No wonder it looks a bit pissed off.

To support the Ukrainian war effort, I would like to mention a paper on Black-winged Stilt authored by several researchers of Kharkiv University in Ukraine (I know the above does not make any sense but I think it sounds kind of fun, the overblown ego of an irrelevant blog post writer thinking his work has any influence on anything).

The paper is titled “Breeding of black-winged stilt Himantopus himantopus in muddy sites of a wastewater treatment plant“.

As far as I can tell, the paper does not have any interesting results, but that is not the point, right? Probably the Ukrainian song was not the best entrant at the Eurovision Song Contest but still, people were happy that it won …

The Black-crowned Night Herons Latin name is Nycticorax nycticorax, which immediately makes me think of “New York New York so nice they named it twice”. Then I typically have to spend the next 3-5 minutes removing the vomit from my clothes, desk, and furniture.

The relationship between Black-crowned Night Herons and Common Terns seems to be as weird as the relationship in most human couples. On the one hand, Black-crowned Night Herons can be predators in Common Tern colonies (source). On the other hand, there have been reports of Black-crowned Night Heron chicks being adopted by Common Terns (source). Some sort of “Turning the other cheek” approach by the presumably non-Christian Terns?

I assume this is an Oriental Skylark rather than a Eurasian one, though my identification is solely based on probability. Or you could state it more elegantly, I am putting Occam’s razor to work.

Interestingly (which in this case actually means interestingly rather than just being a vague first word in an otherwise boring statement), on the Tibetan Plateau, nests of Oriental Skylarks close to the burrows of Mountain Pikas are less likely to be successful than nests further away from burrows (source). It seems that as the Mountain Pika is the main food source for some predators, you better not live too close to them, as you might end up as bycatch. This fact is now taught in skylark schools all over the world and has led to a strong NPIMBY movement among the skylarks – “no pikas in my backyard”.

If you have ever heard the rather ugly vocalization of the Oriental Reed Warbler (which eBird describes as a “harsh, grating rattling”), you will be quite grateful to the Common Cuckoo for selecting this bird as an important host species.

My theory is that some Oriental Reed Warblers deliberately accept the eggs of Common Cuckoos as even they prefer the sound of the cuckoo to their own vocalization. Now I just need to find some grant money to try and prove my theory.

I am not sure whether this Eurasian Hoopoe is a juvenile, molting or just a fan of a rather run-down look.

To my surprise, I learned that the hoopoe is or was also a guest (or should I say exhibit?) at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (source). I do not know whether that means they have to dress up in Mickey Mouse ears or not.

What happens when an area with nests of Reed Parrotbills gets flooded? A paper has studied this question. The findings are quite interesting.

So, after the flood (which had destroyed some nests), the parrotbills positioned their new nests much higher, at a height of about 1.2 meters instead of 0.7 meters before (I have no intention to also give you these heights in some outdated old measures – US readers, you are on your own here. I gave up my US citizenship a few years ago and looking at recent events such as “Right vs. Wrong”, it was one of my better decisions. End of political rant).

Sounds like clever behavior by the parrotbills, right? In scientific parlance, you would not call it clever though but talk about the parrotbills’ “behavioral plasticity in their nest-site selection”.

But: the higher nests were much more exposed to predation and thus had a much lower success rate – something that in Kai parlance is called “a major fuckup” but which in the paper is put in a much less vulgar way (I guess the authors do not have a history of listening to alternative/punk music and watching Ricky Gervais videos):

“Animals’ response to rare climatic events, such as flooding, may produce ecological traps if they make the animals more susceptible to other kinds of threats they are more likely to continue to encounter.”

In my words: the parrotbills fucked up. Good to know it does not only happen to me.

Written by Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug has been living in Shanghai for 20 years. He only became interested in birds in China – so he is much more familiar with birds in China than with those in Germany. While he will only ever be an average birder, he aims to be a good bird photographer and has created a website with bird photos as proof. He hopes not too many clients of his consulting company read this blog, as they will doubt his dedication to providing consulting services related to China`s chemical industry. Whenever he wants to shock other birders, he tells them his (indoor) cats can distinguish several warblers by taste.