Monday, 13 November 2017

Long Valley - Buntings and A bit More

I've always found November quite a good time to visit Long Valley, with late autumn migrants still passing through as well as arriving winter visitors, it is usually teaming with life. This year it's no exception, with a good variety of interesting birds on show. One of which was the Black-headed Bunting which had been around, I finally caught up with one last week. Funny thing was that a few days later when I visited again the same bird had already been ringed by the bird ringing group of HKBWS, number A13. This species used to be much rarer in Hong Kong, but seems to have became a regular winter visitor ever since they replanted rice.

Black-headed Bunting - before and after ringing

Other buntings were in good numbers, I missed the Yellow-browed Bunting that a few birders saw, but there were plenty of Black-faced Buntings and Chestnut-eared Buntings around the paddies.

Black-faced Bunting

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Of course, you can't leave out the Yellow-breasted Buntings which had been in fairly good numbers, although nothing like what we used to have...I counted a flock of 9 birds flying together, but considering there were probably more in the paddies, my estimated count will be around 15 - 20 birds. I saw plenty enjoying a good meal in the paddies, a clear demonstration why they are called the "rice birds" in China. The other birds also enjoying the extra food at the harvested paddies were a few Oriental Turtle Dove, all of which were pretty confiding as they munched on the left over rice.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - male and female

Oriental Turtle Dove

House Sparrows attracted a few birders to "twitch", a male soon appeared not long after the reported female, they foraged together with the Tree Sparrows. I personally don't find them very exciting, but a nice rarity to have around anyway (yes I guess I can be very ungrateful sometimes). The other rarity on site being the Black Redstart, but since I had already seen it a few times plus taken good photographs I didn't bother too much looking for it.

House Sparrow - male

The Ruddy-breasted Crake had been showing well. It even came out to the open to preen and stretch it's wings for me one afternoon! It was a weekday and no one was around, I guess it feels much safer with less disturbance. Oriental Reed Warblers are also in good numbers, they occasionally showed well like this one, which perched long enough for me to get a good photo. The other species that often attracts a lot of attention from birders are the Chinese Penduline Tits, I think it's because their "panda eyes" are just so cute, a few of them were visiting the same patch of paddies as the crake, one of which gave cracking views.

Ruddy-breasted Crake

Oriental Reed Warbler

Chinese Penduline Tit

Finally, a single Northern House Martin within a flock of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows. Another species that seems to have increased in numbers slightly, something to do with a shift in their migration route perhaps?

Northern House Martin

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Awesome Autumn!

Pallas's Reed Bunting - Definitely my BIRD OF THE DAY

Just when I thought the week of late October and early November cannot get any better, the birds once again surprised me. The weekend that followed was nearly just as productive, the rarities that I've already seen during the week just made the two days even more impressive.

I drove to Tai Sang Wai early morning once again, mainly to try for the Pallas's Reed Bunting which John Clough reported the day before, a species which I still needed on my Hong Kong list. So, off I went to the supposed location, I walked around twice but with no naturally I went back to the Rook site, a few birding friends were already there trying to get some better photos of the Rook. The crow was not so cooperative though, it was flying back and forth Mai Po and Tai Sang Wai, views were quite distant, I didn't quite mind as I already got quite decent photos from the week before. Still a nice bird to see none the less.

Rook - old news, but still a rarity...

Seeing that the Rook did not feel like being friendly, other guys decided to head to Long Valley to try for the Black Redstart. The lack of friendly birds was made up for with a Eurasian Skylark which literally blocked our way by standing in the middle of the road, what choice did we have but to get out and take some photos! I've never had Eurasian Skylarks in the open like this, so it's nice to finally get some decent photos of this species.

Eurasian Skylark - friendliest Skylark ever?

We got to the location of the Pallas's Reed Bunting and decided to try once again. Scanned the whole area without much luck, I thought the bird was gone for sure. Just as I felt defeated and was about to give up, a bird suddenly perched on top of a blade of grass, and what else could it be but my target bird! A lifer and a Hong Kong tick! This species is a rare winter visitor in Hong Kong, with only a handful of records each year. Their bills comparatively smaller then other buntings, it is also quite dainty and slim. The bird fed on the seeds on the road constantly and allowed really good views when on the ground.

Pallas's Reed Bunting - a long awaited tick!

After the bunting we went over to Long Valley, having gotten some terrible photos of the Black Redstart the other day I wanted to get a better photo, and was in luck when the bird flew close and showed really well for a good few minutes for everyone to enjoy! Having successfully gotten the shots that I wanted, I walked around Long Valley shortly.

Black Redstart - much closer this time...

A bird perched on the wire caught my attention, I initially thought it was some sort of Bunting, but a closer look reveal it to be some kind of Sparrow. I walked closer, where Henry Lui was already on the bird and photographing it. I initially thought it was a female Russet Sparrow, but the more I looked the more it felt strange, and I suddenly realise this could well be a female House Sparrow! It's back and head patterns are not as contrasty, while it's bill shape and head looked overall larger in proportion to the body. It wasn't immediately a straight forward ID, but after some discussion it was confirm that this was a female House Sparrow. For many birders from abroad, this may not sound very exciting...but this is genuinely a rare bird in Hong Kong with only a handful of records in the past! So, despite this being just a House Sparrow, it was quite a nice find.

House Sparrow - yes, it's super rare

I visited Mai Po briefly afterwards, mainly to try for a reported Barred Cuckoo-dove, although it later turned out the report to be an escaped Barred-shouldered time there was not wasted! I managed to FINALLY get a good shot of a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler present next to the public toilet, I've always wanted to get a decent photo, and this relatively friendly individual perched just long enough for me to get a few clear shots. Also present was a male Black-naped Monarch, which was far less friendly (surprise surprise...) then the warbler, but still a nice bird to see.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler

Black-naped Monarch - male

It's amazing to think that with the House Sparrow and Pallas's Reed Bunting, I added a total of 6 new species to my Hong Kong list! That's usually half a year worth of new species for me! This will sure remain to become one of my most memorable birding week in Hong Kong (so far).

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Incredible Late Autumn Run

Siberian Blue Robin - one more bogie bird down!

For whatever reason, birds this autumn came quite late in general, things were extremely quiet the first half, with not so much of a single vagrant or rarity. Coming to the second half of autumn, the northerly winds seems to have picked up, and we were suddenly getting a huge influx of interesting species, I even gained a few new ticks for my Hong Kong list.

The first interesting bird I caught up with was a juvenile Siberian Blue Robin, a species that had eluded me for years as one of my top bogie bird...News of this young bird at Ho Man Tin showing on Saturday morning had my dad and I heading there early afternoon to try for the bird. Quite a few photographers were already there, turns out the bird showed very well and foraged constantly. Good thing we went on the day it was discovered, as the bird was already gone the next day. Therefore, this bird finally freed me from the Ho Man Tin curse!

Siberian Blue Robin

On Tuesday, news of a flock of four Tundra Bean Geese and three Greater White-fronted Geese at Mai Po grabbed my attention, I was on my way to Long Valley and quickly changed course. The four showed wonderfully well at pond 16/17, close enough for some good photos. Geese are quite rare in Hong Kong, although we have been getting more and more reports of geese in recent years, they are still considered a "twitch". The last time I saw them was seven years ago, with two Tundra Bean Geese and two Taiga Bean Geese also at Mai Po.

Tundra Bean Geese

The four Bean Geese later flew off somewhere, so I decided to go look for the Greater White-fronted Geese rumoured to be around pond #22. While walking there I noticed a flock of seven geese perched on an island at pond#21, turns out the Bean Geese found the other geese and roosted together. I have never seen so many geese in Hong Kong on one single day, certainly a great view to look at.

Tundra Bean Geese in flight

Greater White-fronted Geese with Tundra Bean Geese

Having photographed the Greater White-fronted Geese last year I wasn't much interested in waiting for those to get closer, so I decided to go look for other birds elsewhere. A single Chinese Spot-billed Duck at one of the water channel provided a fairly close look before it got flushed. Pied Kingfishers were extremely active and three constantly hovered in front of hide #1, allowing some great photography opportunities. There weren't that many raptors around as I've hoped for, only a lot of Black Kites and a single Peregrine Falcon came by and flushed some ducks and waders.

Chinese Spot-billed Duck

Pied Kingfisher

Black Kite

Peregrine Falcon

Outside the bird hides, Dusky Warblers were everywhere, I totally lost count when I got to around 15, there were definitely a lot more then that. Daurian Redstarts were also showing up in decent numbers now, I got both male and female along the same stretch of footpath, both very photogenic.

Daurian Redstarts - the show offs...

Right outside hide #3, I spotted a small black and white bird, a closer look confirms it to be a male Mugimaki Flycatcher! They are such beautiful birds that everytime I see a male it's like the first. Their smart looking white brow, white wing patch, and most of all the bright orange throat and breast combines together for one great looking creature! I went inside the hide and informed Peter who was photographing the Bean Geese at that moment, though he couldn't repeat the luck, but he did manage to find me a Styan's (AKA Pleske's) Grasshopper Warbler, which I heard and briefly saw but could not photograph, either way a new bird for me!

Mugimaki Flycatcher - male

I went back into hide #3 to hopefully wait for some raptors, although there weren't even a Harrier in sight, later some birders commented the harriers caught a few ducks the day before, so it could be that they won't feed again in the next few days. There were however a pair of Northern Lapwings present, one being an adult while the other probably a younger bird. Both provided great views from the hide. A single Grey-headed Lapwing was also present.

Northern Lapwing

Grey-headed Lapwing

After a pretty great day at Mai Po, I headed to Tai Po Kau with Long on Thursday morning. Things weren't exactly exciting, a Black-throated Laughingthrush gave great views as we walked up, rarely do I get one so photogenic. There weren't that many large bird waves, so things were quite slow. Asian Stubtails seems to be in quite good numbers now, we encountered a few. A female Orange-bellied Leafbird was found along the end of the red trail. We finally got a good bird wave with some warblers, including an Eastern Crowned Warbler plus a Goodson's Leaf Warbler. We also spotted an Orange-headed Thrush hopping next to the trail but was too quick for any photos.

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Asian Stubtail

Orange-bellied Leafbird

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Goodson's Leaf Warbler

I checked on the bird news and saw that a few had spotted a Rook at Tai Sang Wai just outside Mai Po! This is a mega rarity in Hong Kong, there had not been any confirmed records. So we decided to cut our walk short and quickly drove to Tai Sang Wai. When we got to the supposed location, a few other friends were already on site and quickly put us onto the bird which was perched right on top of a metal pole. The eastern race does not have a bare face like those in Europe, so at first glance it could be mistaken for a Carrion Crow, but closer look you will notice the much pointier bill and much smaller size.

Rook - mega rarity!

Around the same area there were also a lot of Collared Crows, which the Rook happily followed. A drained fish pond also attracted a few Black-faced Spoonbills which showed well at close range.

Collared Crow

Black-faced Spoonbill

The other guys told me that the Black Redstarts that had been seen at Long Valley last Sunday was showing again, surely an opportunity not to miss! Long and I drove straight there and once again my friends got there earlier then we did and had already got onto the bird. This is likely just the 3rd Hong Kong record, and the 1st autumn record, so definitely another huge rarity! Finally, a spotted a Cinnamon Bittern from afar, this shy bird was kind enough to perch right out in the open for us to look at briefly. Getting two lifers and four checklist birds within one week, birding can't get much better then this.

Black Redstart - another mega rarity!

Cinnamon Bittern