Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Lianghua National Forest Park - December 2018

Lianghua National Forest Park located near Huidong had became one of my favourite weekend birding destination in southern Guangdong ever since I first visited in October last year. The site forms a large patch of forested area east of Huidong along with the better known Gutian Natural Reserves. This site is just shy of 90km from HK, making it a perfect weekend getaway. Over the last few visits good birds such as Red-headed Trogon, Collared Owlet, Silver Pheasant, Small Niltava, Hill Prinia and Brown-breasted Flycatchers had kept our interest high.

The site is a popular tourist attraction during plum blossom season, otherwise it is fairly undisturbed throughout the year. Captain initially wanted to visit Dinghu Shan, but news of the site being closed off had us changing plans, and the thought of visiting Lianghua before the touristy season begin was tempting. So, Captain, Kei and I decided to give the site another try. We met on Friday evening and drove up to Huidong where we stayed a night before driving to the forest park early in the morning.

We woke up at 5:45am, bought breakfast at a 24 hours KFC next door and off we went. We arrived at the forest park before 7am. Cool morning breeze felt very 'autumny', and the red leaves looked the part as well. A flock of Black Bulbuls made an appearance near the main entrance, a few of them had handsome white heads, while a few were still in transition.

Views of Lianghua National Forest Park

Black Bulbul

A large bird wave went past, with Huet's Fulvetta being the predominant species, Scarlet Minivets were also frequently encountered throughout the day. Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers were also found amongst the flock, although in much lower density.

Huet's Fulvetta

Scarlet Minivet - male

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

A single Verditer Flycatcher was seen, this seems to be quite a regular species here, we saw a juvenile during our summer visit which indicates the possibility of breeding at this site. A Speckled Piculet was seen in the bird wave, we encountered up to 7 birds throughout the day, a clear demonstration of how common it is at Lianghua.

Verditer Flycatcher - male

Speckled Piculet

A few Buntings along the roadside made it tough for us, with a bit of patience we were able to get good views of one bird which turned out to be a Black-faced Bunting. Not quite what we were hoping for, but still not a bad record.

Black-faced Bunting - female

Things quietened down around mid-morning, but a flock of Black-throated Tits certainly kept it entertaining for us. We've not recorded this species at this site before, making this a nice addition to our site list. Orange-bellied Leafbirds were quite active throughout the day, making weird calls that confused us time after time...

Black-throated Tit - a new species to this site

Orange-bellied Leafbird - male

Small Niltava was recorded on our previous visit, so it wasn't a surprise when I heard several along the forest track. A male showed particularly well, posing front and back. This species is currently a rare winter visitor to Hong Kong, but seeing that it's status here at Lianghua is likely to be a fairly common resident, it seems logical that this species may colonise Hong Kong in the near future.

Small Niltava - male

We had an early lunch at a nearby restaurant and rested. After lunch, I suggested that we visit the area where we first saw a pair of Red-headed Trogons last year. Everything was quiet, but I noticed a previously hidden trail that goes up the river valley which looked promising. The trail went through some good habitat along the stream, looking like perfect Trogon territory!

Trogon territory...

Sure enough, Captain noticed a Trogon like bird in the distance. The bird later called which confirmed his suspicion, however it remained out of view. A burst of playback brought it closer, and with a little patience the bird finally showed! A female Red-headed Trogon gave nice perched views, although it was very shy, fluttering off in the slightest movements. We've recorded this species on nearly every trip, which indicates a healthy population at this site.

Red-headed Trogon - female

We drove further uphill, but things were generally quiet. Kei was feeling slightly drowsy so Captain and I strolled along the main road as he napped. As we were walking along I noticed two white birds upslope, it was pretty clear what they were, Silver Pheasants! I grabbed my camera and began taking photographs, Captain soon realised what I was looking at and soon joined in. There were at least 3 males and 4 females in that flock, all obscured by branches. Suddenly, an adult male hopped up onto a rock and looked at us! It's silvery white tail cascade down the rock, we were both in awe. The flock soon scuttered upslope. Just as they disappeared behind the thick foliages, Kei appeared in the car, as Captain and I laughed our heads off...Kei was not at all pleased that he dipped on this encounter.

Silver Pheasant - one of the stunning looking male

The drive back to Shenzhen was not particularly eventful, it took longer than expected as we hit some weekend traffic. With a list of some high quality birds, Lianghua always seems to deliver. There was some construction works being done along the lower sections of the park, whether that quiet status of this park will change in the near future remains to be seen. At the mean time, I can't wait until I return again!

Friday, 30 November 2018

Speckled Piculet and A Failed Twitch

Speckled Piculet - another slowly increasing Hong Kong resident

Kenneth, Bee and I went to Tai Po Kau again on Monday, as they hope to find the Bay Woodpecker which I saw a few days prior. The Bay Woodpeckers never showed that day but plenty of other quality birds did. Including a Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher which showed well again near the same area I saw before. While Mountain and Chestnut Bulbuls were both found in a fruiting tree and showed well.

Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher

Mountain Bulbul

Chestnut Bulbul

The bird wave at picnic area 3 yielded a Speckled Piculet, it showed very well and allowed close views. This tiny woodpecker is now fairly regularly sighted at various sites but it's by no means common, so obtaining such good views is still considered a novelty.

Speckled Piculet

A fokiensis type Goodson's Leaf Warbler was present within the bird wave, it was very pale underneath, although the status of these type of birds are still uncertain, we often just leave them as Goodson's Leaf Warbler for the time being.

Goodson's Leaf Warbler - possibly race fokiensis

Along the red walk we spotted a White's Thrush, first for me this winter. There were also a lot of Rufous-tailed Robins, mostly hiding in the undergrowth but one decided to come out for us to get a good look.

White's Thrush

Rufous-tailed Robin

A rather late Dark-sided Flycatcher was quite nice, although it was out shined by two good looking Verditer Flycatchers, they are such pretty birds that I can't help but to marvel at their beautiful plumage every single time.

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher - male

A late bird wave contained a few dark faced Black-throated Laughingthrushes. Scarlet Minivets were feeding low down, while Silver-eared Mesias were plentiful. A few Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers also made an appearance.

Black-throated Laughingthrush - dark faced morph

Scarlet Minivet - male

Scarlet Minivet - female

Silver-eared Mesia

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

While on Friday, I boarded a boat with a few 'twitchers' to Po Toi Island, where Peter Wong had found a Silver Oriole! A first for Hong Kong! All of us hope to catch a glimpse at this mega rarity...The day started off with an interesting encounter, we spotted a Pigeon being chased by a Peregrine Falcon, the Pigeon narrowly escaped and flew into our boat! It turned out to be a racing Dove, likely of Taiwan origin. The Peregrine on the other hand followed our boat for a little knew the Pigeon was hiding inside, but soon gave up when the Pigeon stayed on the boat until we landed on Po Toi.

This pigeon pulled off a narrow escape...

Peregrine Falcon - this young bird will have no breakfast...

We stationed ourself at where Peter last saw the Silver Oriole, but there was no sign...There were however plenty of Bulbuls, including a few Chinese Bulbuls with darker heads, we wondered whether they could be the hainan race hainanus, although my guess is that they are probably just young Chinese Bulbuls which have yet to get 'white hair'...

Chinese Bulbul - a dark headed individual that resembles race hainanus

An unusually late Chestnut-winged Cuckoo brought some excitement, whether this individual will remain on Po Toi for the rest of the winter remains to be seen.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo - a November rarity

There were a few warblers around, John Holmes found a White-spectacled Warbler towards the end of the day which I missed, although I saw a few Manchurian Bush Warblers and a Radde's Warbler.

Manchurian Bush Warbler

Radde's Warbler

Daurian Redstarts were active but not particularly cooperative, it took me a while to get a photo of this male. Pacific Reef Egret is a regular sight on Po Toi, a few often can be seen feeding near the pier.

Daurian Redstart - male

Pacific Reef Egret

We had an Oriole on the very same tree Peter Wong saw the Silver Oriole, although it was the 'Wrong' Oriole...Black-naped Oriole is not common at this time of the year, but it's simply not the bird we were hoping for. It's most unfortunate that I've missed most of the major rarities this season, but that's just how birding is sometimes. Besides, it's not always about the rarities in birding.

Black-naped Oriole - the 'wrong' oriole of the day...

Monday, 26 November 2018

Late November Birding

Two days of birding last week produced some nice birds. I visited Tai Po Kau on my own last Friday, I haven't been there much since typhoon Mangkhut hit in September, the damage was still quite visible and the forest felt 'brighter' than usual, as most tree tops were blown off and significant numbers of large trees fell. This however provided a slightly better view throughout the forest, there were far less branches in the way. I will start off with my best finding of the morning, a pair of Bay Woodpecker. They seemed to be feeding on some broken branches, I first detected the female pecking on the trunk, they later flew off into downslope, I played a few burst of playback and waited. In the end the male flew back up and landed right in front of me, this was probably as close as I've ever been to a Bay Woodpecker.

Bay Woodpecker - male, the closest I've been with this species

Three brown skulkers showed well for me. First, a Lesser Shortwing which I heard as I walked up the main road. It was singing right next to the road and allowed excellent views! Next was an Asian Stubtail, a fairly common wintering species but never easy to see well. Finally, a silent Pygmy Wren-babbler was seen perched next to the footpath, I only spotted this LBJ because it flicked it's wings. Surprisingly, this was one of the friendliest Pygmy Wren-babbler I've ever seen, allowing a series of photography opportunity!

Lesser Shortwing

Asian Stubtail

Pygmy Wren-babbler

Photographing these skulkers brings a certain amount of satisfaction. A pair of Besra circling above the forest provided a good look. While a few warblers were seen along the way, mainly Yellow-browed Warblers which are increasing in numbers on a daily basis, but I also saw up to 2 Two-barred Warblers, 2 Goodson's Leaf Warblers and a Radde's Warbler...none of which allowed a photo, but I got a good look at them all.


Yellow-browed Warbler

A bird wave at picnic area #2 provided plenty of fun, other than the common resident species such as the always brilliant looking Yellow-cheeked Tits, there were also 2 Grey-headed Canary-Flycatchers amongst the flock, one of which gave some great eye-level views.

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher

I also visited San Tin and Long Valley with Hoiling last week. San Tin had remained fairly productive throughout most of November, I was greeted by a low flying Peregrine, dark faced race peregrinator shows extensive dark cheeks and buffish underparts.

Peregrine Falcon - peregrinator

The Common Pochard reported since the summer has finally been joined by a friend of it's own species, I was delighted to see the two swimming together. The previously reported Greater Scaup was missing, but there were quite a few Tufted Ducks around. A single Chinese Spot-billed Duck was also present, often feeding with the Moorhens.

Common Pochard - now with company

Tufted Duck

Chinese Spot-billed Duck

You can hardly go anywhere now without seeing a Daurian Redstart, I am not complaining as they are such energetic birds and great fun to watch. A weird looking leucopsis White Wagtail with eye-stripes caught my attention, although it is probably just a leucopsis, I coudln't help but to wonder if it could have some lugens or ocularis in it's blood...either way an intriguing looking bird.

Daurian Redstart - female

White Wagtail - leucopsis, probably?

Chestnut-eared Buntings were still in good numbers at San Tin, while a Pallas's Reed Bunting presumably the previously recorded individual was still present.

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Pallas's Reed Bunting

There were yet more Buntings over at Long Valley, mainly Yellow-breasted Buntings, their numbers had remained in twenties or thirties. This is a good sign for this critically endangered species, as it seems they've found a safe haven here at Long Valley...The single Black-headed Bunting had been rather elusive for me thus far, until Hoiling suddenly spotted it feeding in the reed bed!

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Black-headed Bunting

Finally, an Eastern Water Rail just before dusk, a species that is always a joy to see. We often get one or two of these skulking birds that are 'viewable' in Long Valley, although some patience is still often required to see them out in the open.

Eastern Water Rail