Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Birding Expedition to Rudong County, Jiangsu!

A spectacular male Chinese Grosbeak in Rudong County!


Birding Adventure to Rudong County, Jiangsu Province


Our second major nature-based outing since our arrival in China was to Rudong County in Jiangsu Province, located about three hours north of Shanghai on the coast.  Our base camp was in Nankou Town, a small but growing fishing village located at the perfect spot to catch many migratory stopovers. Nankou is also home to many microhabitats that allow for a good diversity of species.  I learned of this “hotspot” from Shanghai Birding Tours, who offer outings to many of the local birding hotspots near Shanghai and the adjoining provinces.  Zhang Lin is the owner and operator of the website, and he was our guide during our trip to Rudong.  His knowledge of the local bird fauna is superb and one would be hard pressed to find a better guide anywhere.  He is familiar with most birdcalls and can sight-ID virtually anything that flies by within 200 meters! 


Our guide, Zhang Lin of Shanghai Birding Tours, spotting the elusive Spoon-billed Sandpiper on the mudflats of Rudong.  He found three and Som found two!


With Zhang Lin’s expertise, we were able to nail 99 species for the two-day trip to Rudong.  But more impressive than the numbers of bird species seen, were the rarities we encountered there.  The high point of course was the five Spoon-billed Sandpipers we saw over the two days.  Three of them were at fairly close range, and Som even found two on her own in the same field of view!  I felt privileged to see at least 1% of the entire world population of this amazing little bird species.  Other rarities seen during our trip were Saunders’s Gulls, Relict Gulls, Nordmann’s Greenshanks & White-throated Rock Thrushes.  While I was really hoping to get some spectacular images of the fauna on our trip, the lighting and air quality was very poor.  These facts combined with the difficulty in approaching the critters, even with my massive lenses, made photography difficult.  So I am apologizing in advance for the poor quality of most of the images on this page.  But all of this was more than made-up-for by the impressive numbers of birds seen on sight.  Conservative estimates in the tens of thousands over the two days would be fair to state!


The Black Locust (Robinia species) galleries lining the old sea walls of the county were home to dozens of species of forest dwelling species.


Rudong is in a unique location with a variety of habitats that may exist for sadly a very short period of time.  The entire region is under intense pressure with construction happening everywhere.   Habitats are disappearing beneath the blades of bulldozers right before your eyes there in Rudong, as is the case with pretty much everywhere in China today.  Another major threat happening in the region involves an exotic grass, Spartina, ironically the same damn grass that was invading and wreaking havoc in my old home region of Puget Sound.  Spartina is “reclaiming” tens of thousands of acres of mudflats that were once the feeding grounds to countless numbers of migratory and breeding shore birds.  


Massive regions of the mudflats are being "reclaimed" by the invasive Spartina grass which was imported by China to reclaim the wetlands of the Shanghai region years earlier in order to build Pudong.  Now vast tracts of mudflats are gone forever.  This patch was "reclaimed" in a matter of two years!


The little that is left in Rudong, is home to an impressive array of birds, some residents and some migratory.  We saw literally tens of thousands of shore birds in the mudflats.   The Black-locust forest galleries that populate the old sea walls of the region are home to an impressive assemblage of forest birds as well.  We encountered several species of thrushes, tits and raptors in these regions.  The old abandoned freshwater fishponds of Rudong are now reed habitats in which you can find many bunting species and, and my personal favorite, the Reed Parrotbill, which we saw in high numbers in multiple locations.  One of the more impressive sights was the dozens and dozens of migrating Amur Falcons we saw on Saturday.  Strangely on Sunday, we saw only one!  The aggregations of White Wagtails in the late afternoons were also very impressive.


Som enjoying a seafood shopping splurge in Nankou's central market!


Fresh seafood was the name of the game on this trip.


While in Rudong, we sampled the local flavor a bit as well.  We had the local seafood at every meal, and even stocked up on it for some home cooking back in Shanghai.  This region of China is not known for its outstanding cuisine, but we did have some lovely dishes in the local restaurants of Nankou town.  We enjoyed our short encounters with the local people there, who were clearly not accustomed to seeing foreigners very often.  We found the Nankou folks to be friendly and genuinely curious, and our numerous trips to the market were always an adventure!


Possible (probable) tracks of a Siberian Weasel seen along the mudflats.


We attempted to trap some small mammals with no luck on one evening.  We did see tracks on a couple occasions, perhaps of a Siberian Weasel and maybe even a Raccoon Dog out in the mudflats and reed beds respectively.  Zhang Lin has seen Nutria and Hedgehogs on numerous trips in the past.  I will be visiting Rudong again in the future so I will hope to have a chance for some mammal species some time soon. 

Rudong is just the first of many hopeful trips in China with wildlife being the main emphasis.  Our future trips include:  Poyang Lake for cranes and waterfowl; Yancheng Nature Reserve for Pere David’s Deer and Red-crowned (Japanese) Cranes; Yunnan for Snub-nosed Monkeys, Hoolock’s Gibbons, Phayre’s Langurs and Black-necked Cranes; Folong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas, Golden Takin and Golden Pheasants.  We also hope to get out to the Tibetan Plateau for the many species that can supposedly be seen fairly easily there.  Good luck to us!




Here are some more images of our birding expedition to Rudong!


Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)


Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)


Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus)


Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)


Reed Parrotbill (Paradoxornis heudei)


Grey Heron (Adeola cinerea)


Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeoloa bacchus)


Saunders’s Gull (Saundersilarus saundersi)


Saunders’s Gull (Saundersilarus saundersi)


Chinese Grosbeak (Eophonia migratoria)


Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer)  The bird standing on the far left front of this image is one of the several Nordmann's Greenshanks we saw this weekend.


Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) is the one on the left front!  The rest are Grey Plovers, which we saw in the high hundreds at least.


Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)


Bean Goose (Anser fabalis


Blue-and-white Flycatcher (Cyanoptila cyanomelana)


Blue-and-white Flycatcher (Cyanoptila cyanomelana)


Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis)


Dunlin (Calidris alpina)


Dunlin (Calidris alpina)


Dunlin (Calidris alpina) in flight over the mudflats of Rudong




Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala)


Eurasian or Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)


Eastern Great Tit (Parus minor)


White’s Thrush (Zoothera dauma)


Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)


Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)


Although we could only get this close to these amazing little birds, we did manage to see FIVE Spoon-billed Sandpipers (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) with the help of Zhang Lin and Som's amazing spotting abilities!  I was thrilled to see one of the rarest birds on the planet.  There are fewer than 500 left on earth sadly.


Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)


Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus)


Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)


Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)


Feeding tracks of a Red-necked Stint in the mudflats.



Red-flanked Bluetail (Luscinia cyanura)


Red-flanked Bluetail (Luscinia cyanura)



White-throated Rock Thrush (Monticola gularis)


Eyebrowed Thrush (Turdus obscurus)


Other Critters!

A Nymphalid checkerspot on a wild Asteraceae flower.


A couple mating damselflies in the reed pond in Rudong


Dragonflies were out in force!


This Bufo toad was seen swimming through the reeds.


Rudong had an impressive fishing fleet and was home to some very fresh seafood!


We met this elderly gentleman on the street and he provided us with some less than accurate directions to town.  It seemed, when we got lost one afternoon, that none of the locals had any idea whatsoever how to get to their OWN town!!!


Cokie is great making his own entertainment.  Give him a plastic bottle, some water and even some great mud, and he is in heaven!


Even getting stuck in the mud is fun!  Although this could have had a different outcome if we were not there....


This lady made the best baos in town!







Sunrise in Rudong!  The entire coast in this region of China appears to be dotted with wind turbines, otherwise known as "bird killers".



Sunset images here in China will have different things in the foreground than what I am used to.  Most will be "industrial" sunsets!


Zhang Lin pointed out the impressive sunspot (on the upper left quadrant of the sun) seen here.



Som is such a great partner!


Although this is not much of an image, it is still one of the rarest gull species on the planet.  The Relict Gull (Icthyaetus relictus) has a very restricted range and Rudong is at the very edge of the distribution and we were lucky to see it!


Species List for Rudong, China

  1. Japanese Quail (Cortunix japonica)
  2. Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
  3. Bean Goose (Anser fabalis) *
  4. Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)
  5. Eurasian Wigeon (Anas Penelope)
  6. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  7. Eastern Spot-billed Duck (Anas zonorhyncha)
  8. Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
  9. Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)*

10. Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

11. Eurasian or Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)*

12. Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis)*

13. Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

14. Grey Heron (Adeola cinerea)

15. Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeoloa bacchus)

16. Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus)*

17. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)

18. Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

19. Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis)*

20. Northern Hobby (Falco subbuteo)*

21. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

22. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

23. Eastern Marsh Harrier (Circus spilonotus)*

24. Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)*

25. Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)*

26. Grey-faced Buzzard (Butastur indicus)*

27. Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicus)*

28. Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

29. Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himanopus)

30. Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)*

31. Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)*

32. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)

33. Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

34. Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus)*

35. Eastern Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa melanuroides)*

36. Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)*

37. Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

38. Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)

39. Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)*

40. Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

41. Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)

42. Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)*

43. Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer)*

44. Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)

45. Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris)*

46. Sanderling (Calidris alba)

47. Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)*

48. Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

49. Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)*

50. Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus)*

51. Heuglin’s Gull (Larus heuglini)*

52. Relict Gull (Icthyaetus relictus)*

53. Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

54. Saunders’s Gull (Saundersilarus saundersi)*

55. Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nolitica)

56. Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)

57. Red Turtle Dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica)*

58. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)

59. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

60. Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

61. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)*

62. Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius shach)

63. Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus)

64. Common Magpie (Pica pica)

65. Eastern Great Tit (Parus minor)*

66. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

67. Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula)*

68. Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis)*

69. Plain Prinia (Prinia inornata)

70. Chinese Bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis)

71. Korean Bush Warbler (Cettia canturians)*

72. Oriental Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis)*

73. Black-browed Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus bistrigiceps)*

74. Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus)*

75. Pallas’s Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus)*

76. Vinous-throated Parrotbill (Paradoxonris webbianus)*

77. Reed Parrotbill (Paradoxornis heudei)*

78. Crested Myna (Acridotheres cristatellus)

79. Red-billed Starling (Sturnus sericeus)*

80. White-cheeked Starling (Sturnus cineraceus)*

81. White’s Thrush (Zoothera dauma)*

82. Grey-backed Thrush (Turdus hortulorum)*

83. Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula)*

84. Eyebrowed Thrush (Turdus obscurus)*

85. Red-flanked Bluetail (Luscinia cyanura)*

86. Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus)

87. White-throated Rock Thrush (Monticola gularis)*

88. Grey-streaked Flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta)*

89. Mugimaki Flycatcher (Ficedula mugimaki)*

90. Blue-and-white Flycatcher (Cyanoptila cyanomelana)*

91. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)

92. Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

93. Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis)*

94. White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

95. Richard’s Pipit (Anthus richardi)

96. Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)*

97. Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)*

98. Chinese Grosbeak (Eophonia migratoria)*

99. Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala)*