Monday 4th December 2017

Another weekend of extraordinary contrasts

This weekend has been quite a rollercoaster of visual contrasts. I had been invited to participate in a group excursion of the Shanghai Birding Group, so I left Suzhou on Friday evening and stayed over in a hotel in Shanghai with a couple of my new birding friends, and we were duly picked up at 05.30 on Saturday morning for the drive to Nanhui, the fabulous but gravely endangered birding area out on the coast beyond Pudong International Airport.

We arrived at the northern end of this highly important wildlife area just as it was getting light, and within a few minutes, we were treated to a wonderful sighting of a Brown-cheeked Rail, which appeared on the edge of a pool, skulking in and out of the waterside vegetation and every now and then rewarding us with outstanding views of what is normally a highly elusive species. A great start.

We worked our way southwards along the seawall road, meeting up with various other car-loads of Chinese birders who had also been invited along, and eventually we arrived at what is known as “the magic parking lot”, and it lived up to its magical reputation for turning up some marvelous birds again on this occasion.

The car park is favoured by Chinese bird photographers, who place live mealworms on a couple of hunks of wood, and this bait lures the birds in, and it was not long before we were treated to outstanding views of an extraordinarily beautiful male Japanese Robin. Unlike the familiar European Robin, this species has a fiery orange face and breast, bordered below by a deep slaty-grey band. It is not common at all on the China coast, least of all this late in the year, and we savoured this splendid viewing for quite some time.

The Japanese Robin put on a splendid show

The photographers in the Magic Parking Lot are almost as much of a sight as the birds they photograph

Hair-crested Drongo was a nice bird to see; the hair crest can just be seen sticking up from its forehead

A Blue Rock Thrush of the race philippensis posed nicely on the seawall

An Osprey sat on a post offshore

The Shanghai birding group team

The rest of the day was spent birding along the coast and at the nearby Dishui Lake, and by the end of the day we had notched up a respectable list of 72 species. We then headed back towards the city, and ended what had been a great day with some German beer and food in the newly opened Paulaner Bräuhaus, which was well worth a visit.

Sunday morning saw the three of us who were staying in the hotel meeting again at 06.00AM, and heading on the metro to Century Park, a sort of Shanghainese equivalent of Central Park in New York. We birded that park intensively between around 7.00 and 11.00AM, when the crowds began to build up, and reached 32 species of bird, not a bad total for a park in the centre of a huge city (by some measures, Earth’s largest metropolis). The total included some quite interesting birds, including Red-billed Starling (a lifer for me), Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers, Chinese Grosbeak, Azure-winged Magpies, Dusky, Pale and White’s Thrush, and Hoopoe.

Century Park is an oasis of calm in the teeming city of Shanghai

Looking north across the lake in the park

These flats have a good view of the park

The lotus plants have died back for the winter now

Night Herons are not rare in Shanghai

A splendid gingko tree in all its autumn finery

A charming bridge in Century Park

There are some quite wild parts in the corners of the park

Little did I know that I would be near the top of the tallest building later that day

We then headed to the metro station, and I split from the others as I had arranged to meet my ex-boss and friend Brian in the skyscraper zone of Pudong for lunch, and when I emerged from the underground station, I was confronted by a plethora of stupendous buildings towering into the sky above me.

Completed in 1994, the Pearl Oriental TV Tower was the tallest building in Shanghai until 2007

Futuristic skyscape in Pudong

The Shanghai Tower stands proudly above all its neighbours

We first wandered down to the waterfront, directly opposite the stately buildings of the Bund, symbols of western power during the early half of the 20th century. These are utterly dwarfed by the immense structures on the Pudong side.

The stately buildings along the Bund as seen from Pudong

After lunch, we headed for the tallest of all, the unimaginatively named Shanghai Tower. Designed with a unique curve that twists all the way up the 632 metres to the top, this structure is currently the second tallest building in the World.

The Shanghai Towers towers over its neighbour, the 492m World Financial Center, nicknamed “The Bottle-opener”

After some difficulty in finding the entrance, we were surprised at having to go down two floors in order to then go up, but then we shot up in what are apparently the fastest lifts on Earth, travelling at 18 metres/second. I was surprised that I did not feel dizzy rising at this pace, but it was a smooth ride, and despite the air pollution and haze that obscured the view from the viewing platform on the 118th floor, the vistas in all directions were quite simply stupendous. All the other skyscrapers nearby were like toys in comparison to this monster, and I found myself almost at a loss for words. The pictures say it all.

The Huangpu River curves its way through Shanghai

The other buildings in Pudong look like toys from this extraordinary viewpoint

The Jinmao Tower looks tiny in comparison

“The Bottle-opener” is an appropriate nickname for the second highest building in Shanghai

These blocks of flats are not small in themselves, yet they look insignificant from this height