Thursday, 26 November 2020

Crested Bunting - a Long Awaited Hong Kong Tick

With the peak season for buntings now past, numbers of buntings present at Long Valley decreased significantly. Although, this doesn't mean nothing exciting is on show, the best bunting of late is a pair of Crested Bunting that stayed on for a while. The pair had been slightly elusive, but often hard to miss if they do show up. 

Crested Bunting

 Oddly enough, Crested Bunting had always eluded me in Hong Kong, while I have seen them during ventures elsewhere, it was not on my Hong Kong list! I was delighted to connect with this pair and finally ticking this off my Hong Kong list. They really are such a beautiful species with their unique appearance, unfortunately this species is not as common as they used to in Hong Kong, this is probably due to the lack of rice paddies, so the more rice we plant the better!

Crested Bunting

Other interesting observations at Long Valley includes a single Golden-headed Cisticola, it was a typical bird in non-breeding plumage with well marked head and long tail. I also spotted a few moulting juvenile Chestnut Munias, before moulting they looked just like juvenile Scaly-breasted Munias!

Golden-headed Cisticola

Chestnut Munia

I observed a Long-tailed Shrike feeding on a shrew in a very shrike-like fashion, I have never personally observed Long-tailed Shrikes impale their preys on plants, I don't think it is common practice within this species, but this shows they are more than capable of doing so! Finally, I found a pair of Citrine Wagtail within the flock of Eastern Yellow Wagtails present, we don't seem to get as many as we used to, so I am glad to find these at Long Valley.

Long-tailed Shrike - with shrew

Citrine Wagtail

At Lam Tsuen while working I had a very low flying Crested Serpent Eagle and disturbed a juvenile Besra feeding on something, it flew up and perched up in the tree and stared at me for a while, with feathers still stuck to its talons.

Crested Serpent Eagle


At Mui Shue Hang Park, birding is fairly good with a nice selection of winter visitors, including Ashy Drongos and Black-winged Cuckooshrikes. I also had a single Taiga Flycatcher and a male Verditer Flycatcher there on separate days.

Taiga Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

While along the river a pair of Common Kingfisher were constantly diving for fish, this beautiful male came in particularly close for a nice photo. While a juvenile male Plumbeous Redstart had taken up the usual spot this year, you can just see one red tail feather when it fans out its tail, otherwise I would have mistaken it as a female. I had a lot of fun watching it wrestle with a large caterpillar, unfortunately it was snatched away by a much larger Oriental Magpie Robin later, leaving the poor Restart without a big meal.

Common Kingfisher

Plumbeous Redstart

During a tour for HKBWS in Wan Chai, we had a fairly pleasant morning along Dutch Lane near Wan Chai Gap Road. A nice selection of common birds includes Scarlet Minivets, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers and Black-throated Laughingthrush. The best bird that morning was a Sulphur-breasted Warbler which dropped in from nowhere! I am glad to see this after missing the one in Tai Lam.

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

At San Tin, where I kept missing the Rosy Starling found by Captain, there were quite a few Common Starlings present, I had great views of one perched high up singing. Being a not so common bird in Hong Kong, we always stop to appreciate how beautiful they really are, with their iridescent plumage.

Common Starling

Friday, 20 November 2020

Second Chances - Chinese Leaf Warbler

Birders doesn't always get second chances for twitches, sometime you fail to connect with a bird and thats it. I failed my first attempt on the Chinese Leaf Warbler found by Roman Lo at Tai Po Kau earlier, it was showing 45 minutes before I arrived and didn't show the entire afternoon! I thought the bird had moved on and gave up, only to be informed the next morning that it was back at the same location! I quickly got ready and headed to Tai Po Kau before work. Luckily, this time the warbler showed beautifully for the entire 30 minutes I was there.

Chinese Leaf Warlber

It was feeding on a piece of bamboo infested with scale insects, actively foraging around it and picking them off like popcorns! There had only been a handful of records in Hong Kong, and not all previous records claimed were accepted. This is a tricky bird to identify, as it superficially look similar to Pallas's Leaf Warbler.

Chinese Leaf Warlber - feeding frenzy on scale insects

How do we know this is a Chinese Leaf Warbler for sure you may ask? Firstly, this individual was pretty vocal and often made a sunbird like call that most birders may simply ignore! Although the call was slightly more rhythmic and more powerful when you really starts comparing the two. Secondly, the crown stripe was what I felt really different from Pallas's Leaf Warbler, especially closer to the forehead, where the crown stripe fades and does not touch the bill. The overall colour is also more subdued, while in Pallas's you expect the bird to be much brighter. Structurally, Chinese Leaf Warblers are longer than Pallas's, somewhat closer to what you expect on a Yellow-browed Warbler. Overall, a very nice bird to see, and likely one which have been overlooked in the past!

Chinese Leaf Warbler - subdued colours and less contrasting crown stripe

Also present was a single Crested Serpent Eagle which perched on its 'usual' spot, calling away loudly. While it may not be there all the time, I have seen it perched there fairly often, no doubt a very good tree to look out for this handsome raptor! 

Crested Serpent Eagle

Over at Mai Po, a Canvasback was reported on the 16th. It caused a huge amount of excitement, as this would have been a Hong Kong 1st! Although all we had was a very blurry photo to go by, and after many photos coming through which simply doesn't show the right bird, it looks as if the initial bird had either moved on or it was misidentified, I certainly hope it was the former, but I will leave the decision to our record committee! Nonetheless, there are plenty of 'interesting' ducks to see, I tried my luck on the 19th and connected with the small flock of Mallards; a species we don't see often enough in Hong Kong!

Mallard - not a common sight in Hong Kong

Also present was the largest single flock of Eastern Spot-billed Duck I have seen on a single pond, while we often see this species in singles or pairs. They are very handsome ducks and one we too often neglect.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck

I located some fairly good looking Common Pochard which provided for a wonderful photographic opportunity. They were actively diving and feeding along the edge of pond 11, the males showed beautifully in the morning sun, the females were equally photogenic. Common Pochard is not really a common species in Hong Kong, in some years we barely get any records, so seeing small flocks of these was quite nice.

Common Pochard - male

Common Pochard - female

There were plenty of Tufted Ducks, a good time to scan for any other diving ducks. One bird i noticed with greenish sheen and a rounded head that looked quite bulbous. I thought could have been a good candidate for Greater Scaup, but it lacked any vermiculation on the back which I would expect to see even in a moulting male, so perhaps its just a tufted male without a crest?

Tufted Duck

Greater Scaup or Tufted Duck?

Another problematic individual appeared, it had a white patch on the lore, not very large but slightly bulkier than most Tufted females present. It looked slightly bigger with a rounded bulbous head, bill also looked slightly larger. It also showed a pale patch on the cheek, which is one of the main differences between Tufted and Scaups. The bird swam closer in the end and allowed for some closer photos to be taken, it wasn't until it was very close that I noticed some faint vermiculation on the mantle. For me, it ticked all the right boxes for a 1st winter Greater Scaup.

Greater Scaup - 1st winter

However, after further enquiries, the opinion on the identity to this bird was split between Tufted and Greater Scaup amongst birders. The reason being one of the photo showed a posture which reminiscence of female Tufted, especially a photo of which I took right after it dived; the neck and head shrunk. For comparison, here is a photo of a Tufted female present at the time and the bird in question below. Part of the white patch on the lore was also obscured by the mud, which made the patch looked smaller than it is. It just shows how tricky these two species can be in certain shape of head can change after diving and there are some overlapping in sizes. However, I think with the combination of various features all checked out (Larger head, pale spot on cheek, vermiculation on back), I am quite confident to call this a 1st winter Greater Scaup.

Tufted Duck - female

Greater Scaup - 1st winter

Other than diving ducks, there were plenty of dabbling ducks to look at, including hundreds of Eurasian Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails and Garganey...

Eurasian Wigeon

Northern Shoveler

I also caught up with the pair of Greater White-fronted Geese, they were showing at close range, although slightly obscured by tall grass, I enjoyed good views of the pair feeding. Also present along the same patch was a very nice looking Intermediate Egret.

Greater White-fronted Goose

Intermediate Egret

Other birds seen around Mai Po includes a Manchurian Bush Warbler which showed briefly. A flock of at least 20 Chinese Grosbeak was a first for me this winter, both males and females showed very well, they are certainly a nice reminder that winter is upon us, despite the fact that it was still 30 °C outside...

Manchurian Bush Warbler

Chinese Grosbeak - female & male

Last but not least, a lovely Common Kingfisher which posed nicely for a photo, despite how common they are I still stop to enjoy their vivid colours every once in a while.

Common Kingfisher

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Out of Luck - a series of failed twitches

Since the finding of the Rosy Pipit, plenty of other rarities have been found by other birders, unfortunately, due to work, I missed most of them. My unlucky streak started when I tried my luck with Captain at Robin's Nest for Oriental Scops Owl, but yet again failed to produce any results, a Collared Scops Owl was my only consolation prize for the evening's hard work.

Collared Scops Owl

One of the better bird I connected with was the Bramling at Long Valley, not a common bird in Hong Kong but not exactly a rarity. The real rarity that turned up was a Japanese Reed Bunting, which unfortunately only stayed for a day and was not found again the next day when I tried...


The day I visited was great for Buntings, the best being Crested Bunting and Yellow-browed Bunting, which I both missed...A pair of good old Rustic Buntings and a single Black-headed Bunting was not quite enough to make up for this upsetting dip.

Rustic Bunting

Black-headed Bunting

There were plenty of Yellow-breasted Buntings around, they were finally settling in and much for photogenic than before. Little Buntings were also in good numbers, while a few Black-faced Buntings played hide and seek with me for a while before finally revealing itself for a photo.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Little Bunting

Black-faced Bunting - female

Chinese Penduline Tit is always a crowd favourite, a small flock have returned to the reeds at Long Valley and gathered a small following. While the numerous White-headed Munias continue to mix in with the local Scaly-breasted Munias. A single female Russet Sparrow was also seen.

Chinese Penduline Tit

White-headed Munia & Scaly-breasted Munia

Russet Sparrow - female

I am still missing photos of Slaty-breasted Rail, and one had been frequenting a pond at Long Valley...most of my friends have seen it, so it shouldn't be too hard, right? While I was there the numerous Greater Painted Snipe provided great views...while the Eastern Water Rail was more than happy to feed at close range...However, the Slaty-breasted Rail refuse to show itself to me as always.

Greater Painted Snipe - male

Greater Painted Snipe - female

Eastern Water Rail

A few Alexandrine Parakeet made an appearance at Long Valley, I usually see them fly through without stopping, this time they were perched on a wire. A single Kestrel drifted past had my hopes up for Amur, but was again disappointed.

Alexandrine Parakeet

Common Kestrel

I visited Mai Po hoping to glimpse a pair of Greater White-fronted Geese that turned up earlier this week, which apparently been showing well at pond 16/17, I arrived thinking they will be hard to miss, turns out they flew off to a different scrape before I arrived...The idea of chasing after the geese were not particularly pleasant, so I just sat at the hide enjoying some of the more 'common' species, such as numerous waders. Of course, the Black-faced Spoonbills which are now returning once again, one of which even had a satellite tracker on its back. A flock of Pacific Golden Plovers were a pleasant sight as well...

'Assorted Waders'

Black-faced Spoonbill

Black-faced Spoonbill with satellite racker & Common Redshanks

Pacific Golden Plover

All in all I would say birding is not too bad, just bad luck on twitching all the rarities, while missing out on a few lifers...But, as is life, you can't always get what you wish for.