Friday, 6 December 2019

Winter Spectacular - Japanese Night Heron and more

I have been itching to update the blog but had been so caught up with work and a recent trip to Osaka (more of that later on) that I've not been able to do so. The most notable rarity of late is a Japanese Night Heron that had been showing exceptionally well at Sai Kung. Ironically it was reported when I was in Japan...First thing after we got back Hoiling and I went straight in the morning and found the bird straight away! This endangered species is only the 7th confirmed record in Hong Kong, and one of the rarest heron in the world! With no more than 2,000 individuals globally!

Japanese Night Heron - 7th HK record!

Back tracking a few weeks back, we had a successful tour outing on 16th of November. The day began with good views of a Brown Wood Owl at Tai Lam Country Park. While two Dark-sided Flycatcher made an appearance, a brilliant looking male Blue-and-White Flycatcher really stole the show. A male Red-flanked Bluetail was also quite nice, this year had been especially good for this species. A single Black Bulbul was a nice addition on the day. The half day tour ended at Long Valley with great views of Yellow-breasted Buntings and a Chestnut-eared Bunting.

Brown Wood Owl - been very consistent and showing well

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Blue-and-White Flycatcher - male

Red-flanked Bluetail - male

Black Bulbul

Chestnut-eared Bunting

November was also very busy for us because of the moving, but now that we have settled in I am starting to explore my new local patch around Ting Kok and Brides Pool area. One of the most remarkable bird I found on my first outing was a single Northern Lapwing on the coast, which later gave an incredible fly-by view.

Northern Lapwing - a great patch tick!

A grassy area nearby was also incredibly productive, with Yellow-breasted Bunting, Chestnut-eared Bunting and Black-faced Bunting all showed well.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Black-faced Bunting

At Wu Kau Tang where I've rarely birded in recent years I had success with finding a Speckled Piculet plus up to two Small Niltava! One of the male even showed quite well! Being so accessible to so many great bird really is a privilege!

Speckled Piculet

Small Niltava - male

A Black-necked Grebe had been found recently at San Tin, of which I have failed to connect with on each of my attempts...I did however connect with a very confiding Great Crested Grebe, which we don't see very often up close!

Great Crested Grebe

The Ferruginous Duck reported near Mai Po stayed on for a week or two, I went back for some better photos and ended up with some good flight shots.

Ferruginous Duck - inflight shots

A few Yellow-browed Buntings were reported at Long Valley of which I missed despite there on the same day, I was however rewarded with a Rustic Bunting which showed fairly well. With 'rice season' coming to an end soon, it is nice to finally see one of the less common visitors to Long Valley.

Rustic Bunting - always a delight to see

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Double Rarities - Chinese Grey Shrike & Water Pipit

After a really busy week, I was finally able to catchup on a few rarities that had appeared last week. Including a very handsome Chinese Grey Shrike at Tam Kon Chau Road, if accepted this will be the 1st record for Hong Kong. This species had been recorded in the past, however all of them had been treated as escaped caged birds. This individual was in very good condition and overall behaved very naturally, keeping a good distance away from people.

Chinese Grey Shrike - possibly 1st record for Hong Kong

The main diagnostic feature of Chinese Grey Shrike with Great Grey is more white on the wing and having no white rump. Both features can be seen when the bird is in flight.

Chinese Grey Shrike - showing large white wing patch in flight

A female Ferruginous Duck was also present in a fish pond nearby, it stayed with a female Tufted Duck. I caught only a glimpse of the male Ferruginous Duck last month, so it was nice to be able to get good views of this one early morning. While at the drained pond next to Tam Kon Chau Road I spotted a few Temmink's Stints.

Ferruginous Duck (right) with Tufted Duck (left)

Temmink's Stint

Rice fields at Long Valley have ripened, attracting dozens of Buntings. The most numerous were Yellow-breasted Buntings, which in one day I counted over 15 individuals! A brilliant count for this critically endangered species.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - male

Yellow-breasted Bunting - female

Another bunting species we used to get as a rarity and now regularly visiting Long Valley is the Black-headed Bunting, it's large size usually give it away in amongst the smaller Yellow-breasted Buntings. I managed to photograph it while it rested on the banana trees nearby.

Black-headed Bunting

Other buntings includes the common Black-faced Bunting, which prefers low scrubs to the paddy fields. There were plenty of Little Buntings feeding around the fields. I also found a single Chestnut-eared Bunting which showed briefly.

Black-faced Bunting

Little Bunting

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Common Snipe numbers had increased steadily, here is one preening, showing off the diagnostic tail. A fly-over Grey-headed Lapwing is a good record for Long Valley. Dusky Warblers are now everywhere, it's impossible not to hear one calling nearby. There are also more ocularis White Wagtails around at this time of the year. Other than the eye-stripe, I also find them to be slightly larger than our local leucopsis White Wagtails.

Common Snipe

Grey-headed Lapwing

Dusky Warbler

White Wagtail - ocularis

I received news of a Water Pipit at Long Valley on Sunday morning (the weird angle of the photos on the whatsapp group nearly had me thinking it was a Richard's Pipit, oops!). I didn't have time on Sunday so I waited till Monday and visited with Hoiling, the bird showed exceedingly well at the same location, in the field there was little question of it's identity, a long-billed, quite small, faintly marked breast and faint eye-brows were all good features, dark legs is also a good feature to look for when identifying Water Pipit. The call was also very different from all the other pipit we usually get in Hong Kong, a very sharp and short flight call that even resembles that of a Bunting!

Water Pipit - second rarity within one week!

Other than the Water Pipit, there were plenty of other pipits in the area for comparison. The most similar looking pipit was the Buff-bellied Pipit, it was overall slightly darker with more heavily marked breast and darker malar stripe. I couldn't manage a better photo before it flew off.

Buff-bellied Pipit

Red-throated Pipits were everywhere, a few retained some red on the throat. While the largest of the pipits are Richard's Pipit, a very long-legged species that usually prefers drier fields.

Red-throated Pipit

Richard's Pipit

Birding elsewhere, having now moved to Tai Po area, it opens up a good selection of sites near home for exploring. We visited Robin's Nest at night in hope to see Oriental Scops Owl, unfortunately the owl was not found, but we did have a single Eurasian Woodcock on the road. While Brides Pool area is likely to get better in the upcoming winter months, I only managed a few birds late in the afternoon, but a beautiful male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker at close range can brighten up any birders day no matter how many years you have been birding!

Eurasian Woodcock

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - brilliant looking male

Friday, 1 November 2019

Tai Lam Revisited

The area of Tai Lam Country Park had received much attention since the Brown Wood Owl sightings, I returned again to try for other birds with fairly good results. I had at least three Eurasian Woodcocks along the trail in the morning, one of which stayed still long enough for a record shot. I see them often every winter but never seem to be able to grab a photo, this is actually my first photo ever!

Eurasian Woodcock - record shot

Speckled Piculets are now heard fairly regularly in more mature forests in Hong Kong, but due to their small size they can be tricky to track down in a bird wave. I was fortunate enough to get this bird coming low down for some photos. They are brilliant little birds and a very good addition to our Hong Kong forest!

Speckled Piculet - a wonderful encounter

The Sulphur-breasted Warbler was still present, along with Eastern Crowned Warbler, Goodson's Leaf Warblers, numerous Yellow-browed and a few Pallas's Leaf Warblers. Getting good photos of the Sulphur-breasted Warbler is extremely tricky, I had a few respectable record shots...

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

A single White-bellied Epornis made an appearance. We used to call them White-bellied Yuhina, but it was an obvious mistake, as their solitary behaviour itself is very un-yuhina like. They are now rightfully placed in the family Vireonidae, alongside with the Shrike-babblers they make up the interesting group of old world Vireos.

White-bellied Epornis

There were at least two Japanese Paradise Flycatchers in the bird wave, one an adult female with a complete tail, the other I am guessing a juvenile, with a very short tail that is still growing out. This species is currently in decline, likely due to habitat loss in it's wintering range, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Sumatra.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

A very shy female Black-naped Monarch also made an appearance briefly, they often fan their tail out like Fantails. There were also no short supply of Grey-chinned Minivets, many were feeding low down and provided excellent views.

Black-naped Monarch - female

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

My dad haven't seen the Brown Wood Owls, so I went back with him in early morning. We got there just before dawn, and managed to see the owl before it roosted. It is truly a magnificent bird and I hope their population will continue to grow in Hong Kong. The subspecies ticehursti in Hong Kong might soon become part of Mountain Wood Owl, a proposed split with Brown Wood Owl leptogrammica described in Borneo, they differs in vocalisation, size and preferred habitat.

Brown Wood Owl - as majestic as always

Birds elsewhere, I was leading a HKBWS group at Wetland Park, it was a fairly productive outing with numerous Black-faced Spoonbills, Red-necked Phalarope, Pied Kingfisher, Red Collared Dove and numerous ducks and waders...There was also an interesting looking Snipe which caught my eye. It was much larger than the Common Snipe feeding next to it and looked fairly big-headed. It was also quite pale of the face, which had Latham's crossed my mind...although after careful look when I got home it is revealed that it's tail is too short and bill probably not long enough for Latham's. In the end it is most likely to be a Swinhoe's Snipe due to it's much larger size, although field identification remains inconclusive. It is certainly a good thing to look out for any Latham's Snipes heading the wrong way during migration though.

"Swinhoe's" Snipe - most likely