Monday, 16 July 2018

Day Trip Surprises - Lianghua National Forest Park, Huidong

Some of our assorted surprises of the day

I visited Lianghua National Forest Park near Gutian with Captain in October last year, this forested site is near Huidong, a mere two hours drive from the Futian border crossing in Shenzhen. After our discovery that Red-headed Trogons are present at this site, Captain and the gang had returned a few more times, although I was unable to join them on those trips. So, when Captain suggested we visit again, I was more than happy to tag along. He also invited Mr. Kwok and his son James, along with brother Kei, the five of us met over the border early morning for a quick breakfast before the drive towards Lianghua.

We hit a little bit of traffic outside of Shenzhen but made up in good time, arriving at the park gate at just around 11:00am. Since it was a bit early for lunch we decided to do some birding first. We drove along the country road 008 and made a slight detour on foot just after the warden's dorms to explore a stretch of road we never birded before. A few Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers caught our attention, but Captain saw a bluish bird, to our surprise it turned out to be a juvenile Verditer Flycatcher, clearly this species breeds here. Further along the track we added a pair of Crested Goshawks which circled fairly low. Another interesting find was a rather large orchid that should be Robiquetia succisa, it was flowering which certainly caught my attention! It wasn't until it started pouring down that we had to turn around to head back to the car.

Verditer Flycatcher - juvenile

Crested Goshawk

Robiquetia succisa

It cleared up after the brief shower, although things were pretty quiet during mid-day, so we decided to head for lunch. At the restaurant there were plenty of butterflies to keep me entertained before the food was served. An Asian Comma landed on brother Kei and came in and out of the restaurant, this is a rather rare species in Hong Kong. There were other species such as Common Jestor, Angled Castor and the Common Rose which I am more familiar with.

Friendly Asian Comma with brother Kei

Asian Comma

Common Jestor

Angled Castor

Common Rose

A Dragonfly species I don't recognised circled outside the window. There were also a lot of Brown Forest Skinks basking in the sun after the rain. The only bird I found outside the restaurant was a single juvenile Hainan Blue Flycatcher.

Dragonfly sp.

Brown Forest Skink

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - juvenile

After lunch and a little rest we headed towards the upper plum plantations, Chinese Barbets called constantly although none wanted to show. I also heard a Speckled Piculet here, but again it did not make an appearance. The only bird that gave us some excitement were up to three Hill Prinias which hopped out briefly after a burst of playback. This species was unrecorded here until Captain and the guys saw one singing during spring, it seems that there's a fairly healthy population here. Lianghua's birds are now the closest known population to Hong Kong.

Hill Prinia

Other butterflies found here includes the Yellow Coster which is quite rare in Hong Kong, Common Evening Brown and a Magpie Flat. A huge robber fly of the genus Microstylum was found perched in the middle of the road, perhaps to dry itself from the rain. An Indian Forest Skink was also spotted, although it got some rather unusual side markings which I have never seen in any individuals in Hong Kong.

Yellow Coster

Common Evening Brown

Magpie Flat

Microstylum sp.

Indian Forest Skink

We caught sight of a Collared Finchbill further up, although it was too quick for a photo. A wet patch next to the road had a lot of butterflies puddling, including a very nice looking Glassy Bluebottle, which is rare in Hong Kong, a beautiful Chinese Peacock was also present, while a White Dragontail made quick stops each time which made photographing it a real challenge, a common yet beautiful Purple Sapphire allowed very close views.

Glassy Bluebottle

Chinese Peacock

White Dragontail

Purple Sapphire

I was very surprised when the high-pitched song of the Small Niltava was heard through the trees, we soon saw up to three individuals; two males and one female. They were lightning quick, darting around in the shades of the trees, luckily the male perched long enough for me to grab a record shot. This is a new record for this site and certainly an interesting summer record, Small Niltava is often considered a winter visitor this far south, so perhaps it is possible that this species may breed in Hong Kong in the near future.

Small Niltava - male

We also heard a Red-headed Trogon calling nearby, however it never showed itself. A Mandarinia regalis was spotted, it had not been recorded in Hong Kong before, a butterfly species that have a high potential to make it onto our list in the future. A Leucauge sp. with beautiful green belly as well as a Chiasmia monticolaria provided a great macro opportunities.

Mandarinia regalis

Leucauge sp.

Chiasmia monticolaria

We got to the barracks which was as far as we could get to the summit, the view overlooking the valley was quite spectacular, it really gives you a sense how vast this mountain system actually is. On the way down Captain suggested we try the stretch of road that branch out from the temple, it is quite well paved but obviously not as often used as plants were evidently slightly overgrown. Here, we spotted two Brown-breasted Flycatchers, one of which was a juvenile, this was our forth Flycatcher species of the day! A few Orange-headed Thrushes made an appearance, at least one of which was a  recently fledged juvenile.

Brown-breasted Flycatcher - juvenile

Orange-headed Thrush - juvenile

Late afternoon is a good time for pheasants or partridges, as they are often active before dusk. Sure enough, I spotted a Silver Pheasant on the right side of the road! Brother Kei stopped the car just in time as the nice looking male stopped briefly to look at us before disappearing down the slope. Silver Pheasants are known to occur at Luo Fu Shan as well as many other forest reserves, although seeing them well is another matter. It is almost certain that this beautiful species once roamed the forests of Hong Kong before the extensive deforestation. It is certainly a very charismatic species of Guangdong's forests!

Silver Pheasant - male

After dinner we stayed on a little longer hoping to find some owls, we got none calling, although Brown Wood Owls, Collared Owlets as well as Mountain Scops Owls had all been heard here before. We were also hoping for some herps, disappointingly we only spotted a Many-banded Krait which slithered away before I can even get a proper look, as well as a Brown Wood Frog, a more interesting find is a single Hong Kong Cascade Frog, which was previously thought to be endemic to Hong Kong, although herpetologists later found a population here at Gutian.

Brown Wood Frog

Hong Kong Cascade Frog

As Mr. Kwok and James decided to stay on for the night, brother Kei, Captain and I dropped them off at in town and drove back to Hong Kong. It was already 11:30pm when we got to the border, but we managed to pull off a true day trip. Overall I would say it was a day pretty well spent, considering the half day birding itinerary, we picked up quite a few local specialities plus a few unexpected species in July including the Verditer Flycatcher and Small Niltava. Lianghua Gutian had continued to deliver great birds and surprised us every time, who knows, perhaps we will get a Silver Oriole here next time!

Monday, 9 July 2018

Summer Rarity

Lesser Whistling Duck - the target bird of the day

We have a very minimal bird list during summer, so whenever we get something out of the ordinary in the summer it is very much appreciated. News of a Lesser Whistling Duck that had been hanging around Mai Po pond 8b caught my attention and I went to try my luck early morning.

Things were pretty ordinary to start with, I saw a lot of Black-crowned Night Herons, many were juveniles, I am sure they breed in Mai Po somewhere. I also found a Little Grebe nest and they had one chick on the nest, they eyed me carefully and one of the parent called the chick to climb onto it's back, probably didn't trust me very much...Another breeding species at Mai Po is Black-winged Stilt, during the summer they kind of take over the little islands at pond 16/17 and claim as their own, they are highly territorial and will attack any birds that try to go near their nests or chicks.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Little Grebe at nest

Black-winged Stilt

Upon arriving to pond 8b, the lowered water levels attracted a lot of Egrets, this is why Mai Po is so important for waterbirds, even during summer we get huge numbers of waterbirds congregating. Chinese Pond Herons, Little Egrets, Intermediate Egrets, Great Egrets and Grey Herons could all be found in the same pond.

Hundreds of egrets...

Assemblage of Egret species 

Great Egret

I located the Lesser Whistling Duck pretty quickly, it's brown plumage stood out from the crowd. It is a pretty elegant looking duck, long necked and rather slim. This species is widely distributed throughout south east Asia and India, while a summer migrant to southern China. It started pouring down minutes after I saw the bird, so I didn't stay too long. The duck didn't seemed to mind either, and stood out in the rain.

Lesser Whistling Duck - in the rain

Lately I have also DIY my own set of macro tools, with an old magnifying glass that had been laying around underneath a drawer, an old and very little used EF-S 18-55mm lens, plus a bit of tape...I had myself a pretty decent macro lens! I improvised with an old folder and made a reflector for my flash gun, the results were pretty decent, considering I made this out of zero budget! I had quite a lot of fun photographing different species of spiders, here are a few species I found...

Rhene flavicomans

Rhene flavigera - female

Siler semiglaucus - female

Siler semiglaucus - male

Zebraplatys bulbus - female

Zebraplatys bulbus - male

Telamonia festiva

Myrmarachne magna

Myrmarachne formosana - male

Castianeira hongkong