Friday, 15 December 2017

Chinese Thrush - Shing Mun

Chinese Thrush - Turdus mupinensis

Things had definitely slowed down since December started, although interesting birds may still appear around the corner, especially with colder weather we should be expecting some eruptive species from further north.

The Ultramarine Flycatcher at Shek Kong Catchment was still present, although my second visit didn't get me the desired photos I wished, the bird behaved pretty much the same, staying high up near the top of trees or down to places with terrible lighting...My shots were pretty much the same if not even a little worst then my first encounter. It also continued as an early morning bird, having a tendency to disappear after late morning.

Ultramarine Flycatcher

Other birds at Shek Kong Catchment includes a large flock of Indochinese Yuhinas, noisily making their squeaky calls. A few photogenic Silver-eared Mesias are always welcoming, they are simply gorgeous birds to look at. A large bird wave contained plenty of busy Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, all crawling around foraging for food. Although a difficult species to see well in Hong Kong, I seem to have quite good luck with the Grey Treepies, one perched for a good minute for me to take a fairly decent photo. I also heard the Speckled Piculet on the same day, although that one refused to show.

Indochinese Yuhina

Silver-eared Mesia

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Grey Treepie

On Tuesday I got news of a Chinese Thrush spotted by Sherman at Shing Mun Reservoir. A species that I've missed on previous occasions, I went early Wednesday morning hopefully to get the bird. After a few hours of waiting, the bird finally showed itself first feeding on a Wild Coffee tree, it was later relocated at a gully and showed very well for over a dozen birders. It's feather condition was however not at tip top shape, being quite scruffy definitely a possibility of it being ex-captive.  Either way I will leave that call to the record committee, but the wild bird trade is still a huge problem in Asia.

Chinese Thrush - rather scruffy looking

There weren't that many other birds to be seen on the same day, I spotted a selengensis Ashy Drongo. Bird waves with mainly Pallas's Leaf Warblers and Japanese White-eyes dominated the pace. A single male Red-flanked Bluetail was spotted around the area where the Chinese Thrush was, although it kept a good distance away.

Ashy Drongo - selengensis

Red-flanked Bluetail - male

I heard two Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers in a bird wave but they never showed well, the two species of Minivets though were more then happy to offer some great eye-level views, a treat as always.

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

Scarlet Minivet - female

Friday, 8 December 2017

Ultramarine Flycatcher & Other Goodies

Ultramarine Flycatcher - 1st winter male

December started off with a loud bang, with a 1st winter male Ultramarine Flycatcher found by John Allcock at Shek Kong Catchment. This species had been recorded in the past, but all the previous records had been rejected as suspected escapes, we won't know what the status will be for this bird, but it looks to be in pretty good shape, it was also behaving rather normally - which means it was difficult to photograph. It was lightning fast, plus tiny! It also stayed up near the canopy half the time, so I was glad with just around an hour of effort I got a respectable record shot...Either way, a great bird to begin the month with! A Bull-headed Shrike passed through while we were waiting for the flycatcher.

Ultramarine Flycatcher - great start to December!

Bull-headed Shrike

I got yet another female Mugimaki Flycatcher at Wonderland Villas, this will be my 4th here this season. Although things seems to have quietened down slightly, most Thrushes were not as easy to see, although we did have a large influx of Pallas's Leaf Warblers. The local Blue Whistling Thrush is as friendly as ever, gave a great pose for a photo.

Mugimaki Flycatcher - female

Blue Whistling Thrush

I visited Bride's Pool where I have not been for a while. Things started off really well despite my late start, I got a good look at the pair of Indochinese Green Magpies early on, although they remained in dense foliages and did not allow any photos to be taken. This species seems to have taken root in the area in recent years, and slowly increasing in numbers, but by no means an easy bird to see...I include a shot I took in Hainan back in 2010, was just a little bit better then the views I got today.

Indochinese Green Magpie - from Hainan in 2010

A very confiding Goodson's Leaf Warbler gave eye level views as it foraged in a nuthatch like fashion. A very distant male Verditer Flycatcher is a first for me this winter. I was very happy that this one showed so well, a photo opportunity not to miss!

Goodson's Leaf Warbler

Verditer Flycatcher - male

At the main barbecue site I came across a very confiding Rufous-tailed Robin, although it had a bit of a strange looking cross bill. It looked healthy otherwise, foraging constantly and looking quite plump. If a Crossbill ever wants to crossbreed with a Rufous-tailed Robin, I am sure this won't be far off.

Rufous-tailed Robin - crossbill robin more like...

Keeping with the strange bill shape theme, I spotted an Asian Stubtail not far off, it looked normal when seen from the side, but once I got a head's on view it was clear that it's got a wonky bill, very much like the Wrybill from New Zealand! Not sure whether these deformities will affects it's ability to hunt, but by the looks of it the Stubtail was fine as well.

Asian Stubtail - wrybill warbler perhaps?

The reported 1st winter male Plumbeous Redstart was absent for the morning for some reason, so I tried my luck at the nearby Chung Mei where I got a confiding female. These water loving little birds are always a delight to see, although they are very common up in China, they have remained to be an uncommon winter visitor in Hong Kong, why that is I am not sure, as we have plenty of suitable breeding habitats for them. There were supposed to be a male around, but I couldn't be bothered to wait around and was happy to get the female as it was.

Plumbeous Redstart - female

I drove past Luk Keng afterwards just to check for any Divers...I ended up counting up to 18 Great Crested Grebes, a good number for this uncommon wintering species, I often see them at Deep Bay where they will be miles away, so I was glad to found a few of them not too far offshore. I do miss those days in the UK where you can get them really up close in the reservoir...

Great Crested Grebe

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Grand Finale - November

Rosy Pipit - non-breeding bird, my final surprise of the month!

I can barely recall a month in recent personal birding history that I got more then three new birds for my Hong Kong list, so to think that I got three times that in less then a month is simply mind boggling! I totaled 7 new birds for my Hong Kong list before this week, including two which I did not manage any photo records. Starting with the Siberian Blue Robin, Styan's Grasshopper Warbler, Rook, Black Redstart, Pallas's Reed Bunting, House Sparrow, Oriental Scops Owl...I was already very chuff about this list, little did I know I was in for even more surprises.

One of my better find (although not a new one on the list) was a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Shek Kong Airfield, I've never had much luck with them despite my efforts to look for them. They are considered rare, but we do get them annually. It was nice that one materialised in a small garden by the roadside, just as I was heading for the public toilet! They look similar to the closely related Taiga Flycatchers, but with a few obvious differences, such as the orange lower mandible, as well as lighter upper tail coverts, they also make a different call to the Taiga Flycatcher. This individual was rather well behaved and allowed some close views.

Red-breasted Flycatcher - wonderfully confiding individual

With a drop of temperature, my local patch that is Wonderland Villas is coming to life once again. Most notably more thrushes up at the jogging trail. Eye-browed Thrush were in good numbers, I think I had up to 5 individuals on one day. Although they were all pretty camera shy...Japanese Thrush were also increasing in numbers, they were just if not even shyer then the Eye-browed. The only thrush that was not shy was the resident Blue Whistling Thrush.

Eye-browed Thrush

Japanese Thrush - male

Blue Whistling Thrush

I had up to 3 Mugimaki Flycatchers recorded this autumn, one female and two males. They were all pretty difficult to photograph, being rather skittish and stayed high up the tree tops, although still very nice to see them at my local patch. Other bird activities had also increase, including more Silver-eared Mesias and Greater-necklaced Laughingthrushes, the latter I manage to grab a photo. The gully had also been a stable haven for Eurasian Woodcocks, I flushed them nearly every time I went down there, although I wouldn't know if they are the same birds or not, but I had at least two on a single day. Two Grey Treepies that passed through was also most unexpected and is a new addition to my Wonderland Villas list, which now stands at 104.

Mugimaki Flycatcher - male

Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush

Long Valley continues to be quite good for buntings, with Rustic reported on Saturday 25th, I went there on the 26th and successfully found the Rustic with relative ease. Although I must say I was hoping to get a few more photographic opportunities for this species...the last photo attached here is one from 27th November 2010, it just shows how bang on time these migrants can be!

Rustic Bunting - 2017 bird

Rustic Bunting - 2010 bird

The Yellow-breasted Buntings were still showing well, with quite a few feeding on the harvested rice paddies. There were evidently much less Chestnut-eared Buntings around. While the two Black-headed Buntings had been very stable and showing well, although having taken quite enough photos of them this season I didn't quite bother to get closer for a better shot.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Black-headed Bunting

With this amount of birds around, it will sure attracts some raptors. A Peregrine Falcon had been regularly flying over, the darker face indicates this as a resident peregrinator. An adult male Japanese Sparrowhawk had also been giving regular flyovers at great speed, probably trying to catch the munias or buntings off guard. Although the most unexpected "raptor" of all was a Chinese Pond Heron that was seen preying on Sparrows! I've seen them take munias before, with birds in such numerous numbers I am sure they would not pass on an easy meal. I think even the Sparrow didn't saw this coming...It's a pretty horrific death as the Heron does not kill it's prey as quickly as a hawk does...this poor bird struggled for over fifteen minutes before the Heron managed to swallow it whole.

Peregrine Falcon - peregrinator

Japanese Sparrowhawk - male

Chinese Pond Heron - with Tree Sparrow...wasn't a pretty sight

I've learnt that by scanning the huge flocks of sparrows, you may occasionally find a surprise or two. I was not disappointed, when I noticed a female Russet Sparrow amongst the Tree Sparrows. Although I have seen this species before numerous times, I've never connected with them in Hong Kong, so it was yet another new addition to my Hong Kong list! It was not shy at all either, allowing some pretty good views.

Russet Sparrow - female

There were plenty of Red-throated Pipits around, I flushed a pipit that made a different call, which caught my attention. The bird looked overall very greenish, back patterns not as well defined as you would expect on a Red-throated, it's tertiaries and primaries also had olive green edges which to me was a bit strange. My initial thought was a young Buff-bellied Pipit? However that felt kind of wrong...Other pipits also went through my mind such as Tree and Meadow...but this bird looked nothing like them, I simply couldn't connect the dots. I observed it for a few minutes before it flew off and was not able to relocate it. I left it IDed as a strange looking Buff-bellied just so that my mind won't be so occupied (I still had to find the Rustic Bunting then!), it wasn't until I got home and uploaded the photos onto my computer did my brain suddenly worked again...Rosy Pipit! I searched for some non-breeding birds photos and surely it matches! I felt terribly dumb that I did not manage to connect the clues earlier in the field, but was still extremely glad that I managed to get such a good view and grab a few good photos.

How did I not recognise this as a Rosy Pipit you may ask? My previous experience with this species had been on Wuyishan in Jiangxi China, and all those birds up there were in breeding plumage, so in my mind they had always been a lovely pink bellied pipit (I know I am terrible)...This is yet another species I've missed the last few times round, my dad had already seen the first bird in 2006. This will be the 4th record in Hong Kong, and only the 2nd autumn record. As far as I am aware of, no one else managed to relocate the bird, so it does show how birding is sometimes just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. So there you are, 9 new additions to my Hong Kong list in one month, I am pretty ready for the wintering birds!

Rosy Pipit - got to be find of the month!