Thursday, 23 March 2017

Taste of Migrants - Mallard?

Mallard - uncommon winter visitor and migrant in Hong Kong

Spring marks a much larger turnover of birds, with new birds coming and going everyday. Things changes quickly and a day could make all the difference! Interesting birds can be found anywhere at anytime, at Shek Kong Catchment late last week I found a large flock of around sixty Silver-backed Needletails, a species scarce in Hong Kong but passes through on a regular basis during migration. They provided some interesting views despite being a bit far, there were enough of these quick birds for me to capture a shot with seven birds in one frame!

Silver-backed Needletail - seven out of the sixty odd birds

Hirundines numbers had also increased, many of them congregated at fish ponds in northern New Territories, most of them being Barn Swallows with the odd Red-rumped Swallows or Pale Martins. The below shots taken from the fishpond while on an outing for work.

Barn Swallow - good target practice

Also at the fishponds were the increasingly common Eurasian Collared Dove, they are now everywhere in the Deep Bay area, mainly at fish ponds and surrounding areas. There was again a Bombax tree near the fishpond I was at which attracted a lot of birds, including numerous White-shouldered Starlings and Azure-winged Magpies.

Eurasian Collared Dove

White-shouldered Starling

Azure-winged Magpie

Eastern Yellow Wagtails are still very common around fishponds, this one was found in Tai Sang Wai, kind of at the "in-between" stage of moulting.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - taivana

The most interesting find at Tai Sang Wai though was a single drake Mallard. This is a species that is not particularly rare in Hong Kong, but very uncommon throughout, even in Deep Bay area. I don't see them very often, a handsome drake even more so! Who would have thought my most interesting spring migrant this week came in form of a dabbling duck?

Mallard - this guy proved to me it was a wild bird by taking to the sky...

Out at Deep Bay a large numbers of Large Gulls were present, including a few rarer varieties, other then our common Heuglin's, Mongolian and Vegas, a single 1st winter Slaty-backed Gull was present on the day I visited. A very handsome Pallas's Gull in breeding plumage was also there, easily picked out from the rest of the gulls with it's conspicuous black head.

Slaty-backed Gull - 1st winter

Pallas's Gull - adult breeding plumage

I visited Tai Mo Shan the other day, hoping to find the Chinese Grassbird as they should now be quite vocal and active. I heard two birds but none of them showed. Chinese Francolins were again very shy and I simply could not locate it despite immense effort. I did however connected with a nice Lesser Shortwing which showed very well by Shortwing standard, but that little bit of twig that blocked it's throat 'ruined' this photo for me...Rufous-capped Babblers called constantly and a few showed well for me. Richard's Pipits were in song near the summit, strangely this one does not look like the local sinensis subspecies, I wonder if they breed up here as well?

Lesser Shortwing - if only the twig wasn't there...

Rufous-capped Babbler

Richard's Pipit

Finally, more night walks with Hoi Ling produced quite a lot of interesting creatures. We were leading a group from CUHK for a night outing on Monday and yielded many emerging frogs, many of them were absent just two weeks ago! We found two Hong Kong Newts, both juveniles strolling along the roadside. Brown Tree Frogs are now active and calling, as are Gunther's Frogs. We found a nice Silver Leucauge (a spider) which have two emerald green stripes on it's lower abdomen. Finally, we found two Mock Vipers on the night, which we were able to show the students closely! Too close perhaps as Hoi Ling was trying to point out it's head shape but mis-judged the snake's movement and got a nice little nibble from the snake...Glad this little guy was non-venomous!

Hong Kong Newt

Brown Tree Frog

Gunther's Frog

Silver Leucauge

Mock Viper - the very same snake that bit Hoi Ling...

Monday, 6 March 2017

Springing to Life!

Hill Blue Flycatcher - the star bird recently

It's spring, you can just feel it in the air, Koels singing constantly now and air is getting quite humid again. These few days had also been considerably warmer. Bombax ceiba trees are all in full bloom, a beautiful sight to behold, they are also attracting plenty of birds. This tree at Shek Kong attracted numerous Hair-crested Drongos.

Hair-crested Drongo - feeding on a blooming bombax tree

Also at Shek Kong Catchment I saw a few Grey-chinned Minivets the other day, both males and females gave pretty good views. They should start their breeding season pretty soon.

Grey-chinned Minivet - they always come in two colours

The Crested Serpent Eagles are also quite vocal lately, I found a pair circling above me the other day. Probably not quite a display yet, but things coming in pairs do stir up some 'springy' feeling.

Crested Serpent Eagles

We still have plenty of winter migrants with us, but many of them should be getting ready to head north for their breeding grounds. Daurian Redstarts are still very much present and regularly seen. Dusky Warblers are still in very good numbers. Great Cormorants are starting to assume their breeding plumage and it feels like they will be going away very soon, leaving their roosting trees empty. Black-faced Spoonbills are still very abundant around Deep Bay area, regularly seen flying to fish ponds to feed.

Daurian Redstart - female

Dusky Warbler

Great Cormorants

Black-faced Spoonbills

Other wildlife had also been much more active. Me and Hoiling came across a Red Muntjac at Tai Po Kau the other night! A great surprise for us which gave prolonged views of this magical creature. Not too many amphibians are out yet, but Brown Wood Frogs were certainly very active and calling constantly at Tai Po Kau. Moths numbers and species had also increased dramatically, here are two of the most beautiful moths which are common lately, first a Barsine striata which have this amazing grid pattern of red and yellow, the second being Milionia basalis which in my humble opinon is likely one of the most colourful and beautiful moths! You can't help but to become mesmerised by their amazing colours.

Red Muntjac - our only deer in Hong Kong

Brown Wood Frog

Barsine striata - stunning...

Milionia basalis - stunningly gorgeous...

Talking about colourful creatures, a 1st winter male Hill Blue Flycatcher had been spotted lately at King's Park; an urban park in the heart of Kowloon. So, I woke up early to head over there before work. The bird was already in song when I arrived, and it didn't take long before it showed itself in all it's glory right before my very eyes. All cyronis flycatchers are beautiful to look at, and this one was no exception. They are quite similar looking to the Chinese Blue Flycatcher I recently saw at SK Catchment, but Hill Blues have a much broader throat 'wedge' and shows more orange in front, equally handsome in my opinion!

Hill Blue Flycatcher - the many faces of this handsome guy

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

All Wishes Coming True

You know how there are days where you will set yourself a few targets, as in birds you will like to see while out birding, and then you won't find any of those target species on that day. Then there are days where you find birds that wasn't on your target list but turned up anyway. Finally, there are those days where you connect with pretty much all the birds you wished to see; today was one of those days.

Chestnut-flanked White-eye - one of my main mission of the day

I worked through the weekend last week, feeling like I want a short break I took a day off to look for a few birds I've been missing out lately. The first being the Chinese Blue Flycatcher that had been here for two weeks, but I simply haven't had the time to catch up with. Second bird being Chestnut-flanked White-eyes, which many people had been seeing but I never had the luck encountering any. Finally, Oriental Pratincoles which have just arrived back to Hong Kong lately (I actually saw them on Saturday while working but didn't have my camera with me). So, with these targets set I headed out to Shek Kong Catchment to try my luck.

My first interesting species came in form of two Besras, one adult that was flying way up high and the other a 1st year youngling that was flying a little closer to ground.


I soon hit a bird wave, the quality of the birds were not bad. Velvet-fronted Nuthatches were very noisy and active, seeing our local ones reminded of those at Mt Kinabalu, and they really looked very different! Yellow-cheeked Tits were very showy today, a male came particularly close, pecking away at a branch obviously infested with worms and bugs. Two Black-winged Cuckooshrikes were also present, although no good views were provided by the pair. Both species of Minivets were present, but it was a male Scarlet Minivet that stole the show, it came down to eye-level giving breath taking views! And you simply can't help to simply marvel at how beautiful they are every single time.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Yellow-cheeked Tit

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

Scarlet Minivet

A more interesting bird was a Mountain Bulbul which came with the flock, very actively foraging. At one point the bird chased down a Glassy Tiger (a butterfly), I never knew they could eat these supposedly poisonous butterflies? As I've previously heard they should tastes quite bad and most birds avoid them...I wonder.

Mountain Bulbul - with a Glassy Tiger in it's beak, I saw it ate it in the end.

On I went to the supposed location of the Chinese Blue Flycatcher, a stretch of tall bamboos. I've heard from various sources that it was quite secretive and was quite difficult to see, so I didn't really have high hopes when I got there. I waited around for a little while and saw nothing, at this moment I tried playing a call of the flycatcher to see if the bird will reveal it's true location, sure enough I got a response in the bamboos! I walked closer and surely found a beautiful male sitting on a low branch. It didn't show for long though, as soon as I took a few photos it disappeared once again and never came back out! So, I must considered myself quite lucky that it actually showed.

Chinese Blue Flycatcher - top target of the day and a new tick for me

I met John Clough soon after, and he reminded me of the Chestnut-flanked White-eyes he found just a few days ago at a nearby location, which was in fact the next spot I planned to visit. On my way over I came across two more flycatchers in form of a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher and a male Verditer Flycatcher, the latter didn't show too well and only allowed a record photo to be taken.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

I got to the two large coral trees that are in bloom, right in the village of Lui Kung Tin. Hundreds of Japanese White-eyes were feeding on the tree, they coming and going constantly. Chestnut-flanked White-eyes had always been a tough bird to find in Hong Kong, first of all they look superficially similar to the Japanese White-eyes, with very subtle differences other then the more conspicuous coloured flanks, which may not always be visible depending on what angle. Secondly, there are never that many, with someone suggesting one in every thousand Japanese...Not sure where this figure came from but I don't think it's far off.

Japanese White-eye - one of the hundreds that were there...

I waited and waited...just as I was about to give up, I noticed a slightly different looking bird. I looked through my binoculars and sure enough it had a chestnut flank! I quickly grabbed my camera and fired a few shots, luckily a few of them were in focus despite my clumsiness. You can see that other then the more obvious chestnut-flanks, their eye-rings are slightly larger, the lores are darker then that of Japanese, while they have a more clearly defined yellow throat. Other then that, they could be easily missed in a large flock of Japanese White-eyes!

Chestnut-flanked White-eye - they just won't stay still!

With both of my target birds at Shek Kong Catchment nicely ticked with time to spare before noon, I decided to head back to Tai Sang Wai to look for the Oriental Pratincoles I saw on Saturday while on an outing. I didn't have my camera with me that day, so I thought a photo record would be nice. Off I went towards Tai Sang Wai, and the first birds that greeted me was not Pratincoles, but a gang of at least six Black Kites harassing young Imperial Eagle! The poor eagle sure took a good beating, I bet it wasn't enjoying it's day one bit...

Imperial Eagle harassed by Black Kites

A few Large-billed Crows greeted me as I entered the fish ponds. I noticed a Great Egret had assumed breeding plumage, bill changing from yellow to black and face from yellowish green to bright green. I thought a photo of a Grey Heron at the middle of the road was quite nice. Eastern Yellow Wagtails were quite common.

Large-billed Crow

Great Egret

Grey Heron

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - taivana

Finally, I found the flock of eighteen Pratincoles right where I remembered them to be. They were slightly more alert today having been here a few days, but being Pratincoles they were still approachable by any standard, I got to just around 5m from one individual. These birds are always fun to watch and very attractive to look at.

Oriental Pratincole - approachable and beautiful

But to see them at their best, you need to see them in flight! They truly belong to the sky being graceful and elegant, agile mobility on the wing allows them to catch flying insects like a swallow. Plus, it is only during flight that you can pick out all the diagnostic features that separates them from the similar looking Collared and Black-winged Pratincoles. Black-winged Pratincoles have dark underwings, while Collared have brown underwing but a much longer tail then Oriental. Both Collared and Black-winged are yet to be on the HK list, although potentially they could be! Also good for me to exercise some muscles for these flight shots, all taken with my 500mm hand held.

Oriental Pratincole - good for target practice

I was out of Tai Sang Wai by 1pm, marking this one of my most efficient ever morning with all three of my target birds found and photographed. Spring is upon us, but busy time ahead for me...Maybe the birds will continue to be nice to me.