Friday, 18 October 2019

Bay Woodpecker - Local Patch Surprise

I woke up in the morning and heard the unmistakable 'maniac laugh' of the Bay Woodpecker, I have previously heard this species at home but never seen it here. I got dressed quickly and with my camera ready I went out to try look for it. It wasn't long before I heard the call again, I followed the sound and played a burst of playback. The bird got slightly closer, but just out of view. I waited for another fifteen minutes before it finally came into full view! Despite being fairly widespread, Bay Woodpeckers are still fairly scarce in Hong Kong, even at Tai Po Kau where they are most reliable can sometimes be tricky. To see one right at my local patch was quite the treat. This lone male continued to call for another thirty minutes or so before moving on.

Bay Woodpecker - male

Birds elsewhere had not been as kind to me as this woodpecker, as I dipped several birds I wished to see, including the Little Curlew which had been reported at Mai Po one day before my visit. I was compensated with an Eastern Water Rail and close views of Eastern Marsh Harriers.

Eastern Water Rail

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Plenty of ducks had returned, including Garganies, Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers, here a flock of Eurasian Wigeons swam in front of the bird hide.

Eurasian Wigeon

There is almost never a shortage of waders at Mai Po, the only problem is that you have to pick the interesting ones out of the hundreds of congregating waders. I scanned the Eurasian Curlews and sure enough found at least one Far Eastern Curlew.

Eurasian Curlew and Far Eastern Curlew (far right)

Far Eastern Curlew

The Little Curlew was replaced by numerous Pacific Golden Plovers and a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Despite the disappointment of the Curlew I did managed a nice Pheasant-tailed Jacana at the lily pond outside education centre.

Pacific Golden Plover & Bar-tailed Godwit

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

It is almost the end of herping season, Hoiling and I spent an evening at Lau Shui Heung, where numerous Reeves's Tokay Geckos made an appearance, including a few juveniles and a massive individual. The large one was at least a foot long and easily one of the largest I have ever seen. Smaller Garnot's Geckos were plentiful.

Reeves's Tokay Gecko - real giant!

Garnot's Gecko

I spotted a rather pissy Bamboo Pit Viper, it was certainly not in a good mood and gave us a warning strike even as we approached, although they are really beautiful snakes that I can never get bored of. Hoiling found a beautiful Greater Green Snake, although it slithered away quickly and out of sight.

Bamboo Pit Viper

Finally, one of my favourite frogs in Hong Kong, the beautiful Marbled Pygmy Frog. Each have a unique pattern like no other, the top one was the one I saw at Lau Shui Heung, the other two were older photos of individuals I saw at Tai Po and Lam Tsuen respectively.

Marbled Pygmy Frog - 3 different individuals with unique patterning

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Northern New Territories - Quail and More

I spared a little time at San Tin the other day, and as my car drove along the track, I noticed a brownish bird walking along the side, coming in and out of the vegetation. I suspected it to be one of the two species of Buttonquails (Turnix) that we often get on passage in Hong Kong. I stopped my car and waited for the bird to come into view, and a few minutes later it instead revealed itself to be a Japanese Quail.

Japanese Quail - a close encounter

This is a species I see almost annually, although most of the time I only catch a fleeting view of this usually shy species. This individual however was not as shy as most I've encountered before, and ventured out into the open for excellent views. The car didn't seem to bother it that much, therefore I stayed inside the car to take these photographs.

Japanese Quail - walking tall...

Although an overall common species with a fairly wide distribution, the Japanese Quail is now listed as Near Threatened, as is suspected to be undergoing population decline due to habitat loss and hunting. They are a great bird to see in the wild and an absolute joy to get good photographs of, I enjoyed good views of this individual until it got darker and I left it to continue feeding along the track.

Japanese Quail - a hungry migrant busy feeding

Zitting Cisticolas are common winter visitor in Hong Kong, many have been arriving and I saw up to five or six on a single track at San Tin. While Black-browed Reed Warblers are also becoming more common, they are not difficult to see at San Tin. There were also plenty of Oriental Reed Warblers around, although none of them were particularly photogenic.

Zitting Cisticola

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Oriental Reed Warbler

Siberian Stonechats can now be seen everywhere at San Tin, being a common winter visitor in Hong Kong, they will remain here until spring next year. Some movement of Red-collared Doves was also noted, with numbers increasing from previous month.

Siberian Stonechat

Red-collared Dove

Hundreds of Whiskered Terns had turned up at San Tin, amongst them were a few White-winged Terns, they were not in their smart summer plumage, but you can still pick them out with their 'headphone' like head pattern. They are usually more common in spring, and a scarce autumn migrant.

Whiskered Tern & White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern - juvenile

White-winged Tern - inflight

The Red-backed Shrike was still present but became more shy. I saw little else of interest except for this White-headed Munia feeding amongst a flock of White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias. This is obviously an ex-captive individual, they are fairly popular caged birds and often seen in the bird market, we often get a few of them mixed in the Munias each year. A few Yellow-breasted Buntings had also arrived at the paddies, although remained pretty shy, I could only managed photos of one perched up in the tree after being flushed.

White-headed Munia - ex-captive

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Finally, a Black-winged Kite at Tai Sang Wai provided excellent views and photo opportunity. In Hong Kong we only get them as scarce passage migrant and winter visitor, therefore it is a real treat to see one up close. It only stayed briefly before flying off into the distant. With all the crazy stuff happening in Hong Kong, it is a real breather and luxury to be able to do some birding in the countryside.

Black-winged Kite

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Autumn Rarity - Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike - healthy looking juvenile

Since I said that no major rarities had turned up in my last blog post, a Red-backed Shrike was reported at Long Valley on Saturday morning. This mega rarity had turned up six times in Hong Kong, first recorded in 2008. I've missed all the previous records for whatever reason and have been awaiting my turn. So, as soon as I saw the news I made a quick dash to Long Valley. Luckily, the bird was very stable, and I found the bird soon after I arrived at the reported site. The juvenile showed well and was not at all shy, it even flew towards me at one point and landed just 3 metres from me, where it caught itself a juicy Mole Cricket. I was able to get some good shots before it flew back up to it's favourite perch.

Red-backed Shrike - Mole Crickets buffet!

I observed the bird for a good two hours, all the while it went back and forth, collecting various prety items, over half of which were Mole Crickets, but it also caught two fairly good sized centipedes on two occasions. Red-backed Shrike have a very westerly distribution, ranging from Europe to western Asia, they over winter in tropical Africa, these vagrants that turn up in Hong Kong are most likely from western Asia which headed south the wrong way.

Red-backed Shrike - on it's favourite perch of the day

My luck improved slightly at Ho Man Tin, with a very shy juvenile Siberian Blue Robin, not exactly the male that I was hoping for, but nice to see them once again. The Tiger Shrike had eluded me once again, it never seizes to amaze me how well it can hide in such a small area.

Siberian Blue Robin - a very shy juvenile

Other than the uncooperative Pale-legged Leaf Warbler that skulked around without stopping for a good photograph, the many Arctic Warblers were by comparison extremely friendly. Such as this individual, which literally landed right in front of me! It is incredible to think that this tiny bird breeds in the arctic and winter all the way down to tropical South East Asia, what an epic journey that they take each year! Here you see this individual eating a stink bug, trying to fatten itself up before it's southward journey towards Borneo or the Philippines.

Arctic Warbler - friendly individual