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February 12, 2014

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Wonders of winged wildlife beckon bird watchers

Bird lovers and bird watchers are flocking to Shanghai’s wetlands, parks, suburbs and forests to observe, photograph and sketch migratory birds spending winter in the city.

Shanghai and the surrounding area are an important stopping-over site for migratory shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Many other kinds of birds such as passerines (perching birds), also transit, pass the winter and breed in Shanghai.

This is the perfect time to see winged wildlife in Dongtan Wetland Park’s bird reserve on Chongming Island and in Binjiang Park on the marshy coast of the Pudong New Area. There are around a million birds on Chongming, pausing on their way from Russia and northeast China to warmer southern regions.

A bird watching festival is underway on Chongming through the end of February.

Birders can spot cranes, egrets, geese, snipe, moorhens, grackle and wagtails.

City parks, suburban farms and lakes are also good for bird spotting.

“Seeing the birds flying in the sky, looking for food or resting in the reeds, I feel everything is so free and calm. I really wish I were a bird,” said Zhao Wen, an animal lover at Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve. “When I observe birds through a high-powered telescope, I feel that I am watching the birds on TV. Every movement is so vivid and I feel so close to them,” she said.

Zhao and others appreciate chance to unwind and breathe the fresh air in Dongtan Wetland — she calls it a little sweet.

In general, the best time of a year to watch birds is in early spring (according to Li Jing from Shanghai Wild Bird Society), when birds are migrating. The plumage is also the most vivid at this time of year. Tweeting and calls can be heard in the branches and reeds.

Zhang Lin, a professional bird guide for seven years, enjoys the beauty and surprises of nature. He cautiously leads watchers to the middle of the scope, where is the perfect place to watch birds at the perfect time when there are many birds. It can be an awe-inspiring experience.

Shanghai Daily interviewed Zhang Lin in 2012. See his profile story at

“You can enjoy watching birds anytime if you have the passion. They can be spotted at your residential complex, the riverside, parks and botanical gardens,” he said. “Visiting often is the key.”

At the mid point between Russia to Australia, Shanghai attracts many migratory birds during spring and winter because it is an important stop on the flyway to rest and breed.

The wetland in Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve and the East Wetland in Pudong’s Nanhui area are rich in food and safe.

Li Jing from the Shanghai Wild Bird Society said that on Chongming people can see the northern shoveler, mallards, gadwalls and the endangered black-faced spoonbills. At downtown parks there are thrushes such as the gray-backed thrush and white’s thrush, as well as tit birds such as the yellow-bellied tit and the Eurasian siskin, she said.

Birds also congregate around lakes, wooded areas and farms where different kinds of food are available, from grains and berries to aquatic animals. Lakes attract ducks, egrets, kingfishers and moorhens. Some finches like to eat berries on farms. Humic organic soil in forests attracts some thrushes and doves.

Two greater white-fronted geese were spotted last December at Chongming’s nature reserve; the last time they had been seen was in February 2009.

Nearly 100 common starlings appeared last month in poplars at Changzheng Farm in the northwestern part of Chongming Island, according to the county’s information office.

For birdwatchers and photographers, equipment depends on the variety of bird, distance and area. They can be appreciated with the naked eye at parks, residential complexes and botanical gardens. Cameras should have a telephoto zoom 300-800mm, high sensitivity iso and fast focusing. Or you can bring a pair of 200-500 mm binoculars or a 500-900 mm monocular.

“Bird photographers need great patience to follow a single bird,” said a photographer surnamed Zou. “The camera needs to follow from a certain distance for a long time, waiting for the bird to do something interesting, such as diving into the water, hunting or playing with other birds. It’s not unusual to wait two hours for a single picture.”

Wild birds are easily frightened.

 Bird watching is a solitary sort of passion, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lonely pastime. Shanghai has several bird watching clubs, including the Wild Bird Society of Shanghai, which is one of the biggest. Established in 2006, it organizes monthly watching activities and opportunities for people to exchange ideas on bird watching and photographing, and wild bird protection.

“Bird watching is a good way to learn about nature. As more people are drawn to bird watching, they will be more concerned about protecting birds and other wildlife, as well as the environment,” said Li from the Shanghai Wild Bird Society. 

Dongtan Wetland Park

The third Dongtan Wetland Bird Festival at the Chongming Nature Reserve is underway through the end of February. Around a million migratory birds from Russia and northeast China spend the winter in the park before continuing southward in spring.

The 326-square-kilometer park is the first place to welcome the sunrise and a paradise for migratory birds, especially through early April. More than 290 species of birds have been spotted, including hooded cranes, heron, Mandarin ducks, little curlews, and black-faced spoonbills.

The bird festival involves many activities, including a photo contest, a bird drawing contest for teenagers and a clean up of illegal nets set up by bird hunters for profit. For more information, check

Opening hours: 9am-11:30am, 12:30pm-4:30pm, Tuesday to Sunday

Tel: 5947-1556

Tickets: Free. Visitors must register and get passes.

Address: Dongwang Road, Chongming Island

Binjiang Forest Park

The large suburban park is situated on the coast of the Pudong New Area where the Huangpu River, Yangtze River and East China Sea converge in a wetland covering 1.2 million square meters. Many birds can be spotted, including the common buzzard, kestrel, Bohemian waxwing and gray-capped greenfinch. It contains an azalea garden, a magnolia garden and an area for aquatic plants.

Hours: 8am-5pm, daily

Tel: 5864-4791

Tickets: 20 yuan (US$3.30)

Address: 3 Lingqiaogao Beach, Gaoqiao Town, the Pudong New Area

Other places to watch

*Shanghai Botanical Garden in Xuhui District

Opening hours: 7am-5pm

Tel: 5436-3369

Tickets: 15 yuan

Address: 997 Longwu Rd

*Gongqing Forest Park in Yangpu District

Opening hours: 8:30am-5pm

Tel: 6557-1088

Tickets: 15 yuan

Address: 2000 Jungong Rd

*East Wetland in the Nanhui area in the Pudong New Area

Address: Southeast of Dishui Lake

*Haiwan National Forest Park in Fengxian District

Opening hours: 8:30am-4:30pm

Tel: 5716-9090

Tickets: 80 yuan

Address: 1677 Suitanghe Rd

*Chenshan Botanical Garden in Songjiang District

Opening hours: 8:30am-5pm

Tel: 3779-2288

Tickets: 60 yuan

Address: 3888 Chenhua Rd

Tips for bird watching

*Birds, especially wild birds are easily scared. Photographers need to be quiet and careful in moving close but not too close and not stressing the birds with artificial lighting or camera flashes.

*It's best to wear drab or camouflage clothing.

*Don't feed the birds with your own food, instead use the food provided by guides.

*Do not litter.

Bird watching groups

*Shanghai Wild Bird Society

Established in 2006, it organizes monthly watching activities and opportunities for people to exchange ideas on bird watching, photographer and wild bird protection. Please visit

*Shanghai Birding Tours

Shanghai Birding Tours provides tailor-made bird watching tour ranges from half a day to one to two weeks in Shanghai and surrounding cities in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces. Visit, or email for more information.



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