Sunday, 15 October 2017

Gutian - Lianghua National Forest Park

We had a planned weekend trip to Gutian with Captain, Brother Kei and Yuen in mid October, however Yuen was suddenly unavailable due to work, so it was just the three of us. Gutian is one of the closest and larger forest reserves to Hong Kong, although it had never been considered a prime site. Approximately 70km away from Hong Kong, this is quite a good site for a weekend trip.

After dinner together at San Tin we took the Cross Border Yellow Bus at Futian and drove all the way to Huidong, there were slight traffic at Shenzhen but not as bad as expected. We got to the hotel at around 10pm. It was only then that Brother Kei was informed he needed to attend a business lunch back in Hong Kong the next day, which meant that he won't be able to bird with us, but he would drive us up to Gutian and return to pick us up later in the evening.

After a quick breakfast of pork buns and dumplings the next morning we drove straight towards the town of Lianghua and towards the 008 Country Road. The actual forest reserve is closed off to public like many other forest reserves in China, therefore we could only go around the north side on the outskirt of the reserve. We drove up the 008 Country Road and towards Lianghua Forest Farm, there's a gate saying "Lianghua National Forest Park" but these seems to be unfinished, to our understanding this area is famous for the plum plantations and attracts some tourists during the flowering season. 

The country road was quite quiet in the morning, we barely encountered a single car or a person. We just got past one of the plum plantations and to a sharp hairpin turn when I suddenly saw two birds perched next to the road, the pair were flushed and fluttered away in a way only Trogons could! I immediately shouted "Trogon!". It was very fortunate that I already had my camera out of my bag, as I quickly got out of the car and fired a few shots at a male perched on a banana tree! This was very unexpected, as this species had never been recorded at this site, and the known closest location to Hong Kong had been Nankunshan, approximately 150km away from Hong Kong, this is therefore a huge advancement southwards of this species, and a step closer to their recolonisation (I hope)!

Red-headed Trogon - male (yamakanensis)

Our car continued up the hill, we stopped approximately 700m elevation. Brother Kei dropped us off and off he went. Captain and I continued walking up, the forest track was easy going and seemed quite newly paved. Along the I spotted a Dark-sided Flycatcher perched on top of a dead tree. We also flushed a Woodcock along the track but it flew away quickly.

008 Country Road

Orchid by the road side

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Polyspora axillaris were flowering, this seems to have attracted a lot of Fork-tailed Sunbirds. Huet's Fulvetta is common here and we encountered several flocks. A single Orange-bellied Leafbird made an appearance, while White-bellied Epornis seems to be another very common species here, with up to six in one flock, which is more unusual in Hong Kong where we often see singles or pairs in a flock.

Polyspora axillaris

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Orange-bellied Leafbird - female

White-bellied Epornis

We walked further up but with little success, and upon seeing a sign that say "Military Zone, No Photographing", we decided it was time to turn back and head down hill. Things were in general quiet, and we didn't encounter much bird waves. A Slaty-backed Forktail was spotted along a small stream, a very much expected species in almost all forest reserves in Guangdong, they absent in most streams in Hong Kong is still a mystery to me. Grey Treepies were common, we also got a few Blue Magpies, as well as common forest species like Scarlet Minivets, Grey-chinned Minivets, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Red-billed Leiothrix and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers and so on...After hearing the Bay Woodpecker calling twice we finally caught up with one, but it never allowed good views.

Slaty-backed Forktail

Grey Treepie

Bay Woodpecker - requires a bit of imagination...

The ground was littered with many Stag Beetles, of which species I am not entirely sure but they were extremely common, although most were already dead. The weather had became much cooler but also quite windy, it was only 16 degrees up the highest part, but temperature hovered around 20 degrees throughout the day. Around the plum plantations we saw a few trees already blossoming, a strange time to blossom as I usually expect them to flower sometime in January. The habitat around the plantation is quite disturbed, adding a few species such as Long-tailed Shrike, Greater Coucal and Oriental Magpie Robin.

Stag Beetle sp.

Overlooking plum plantation

Long-tailed Shrike

Soon after we arrived back at the location where we saw the Trogons, we walked around there slowly, and soon flushed the male near the small stream. It perched up on the tree briefly for me to take a photo, the female was later found perched on a banana tree. Around the same area we added Emerald Dove, as well as an Orange-headed Thrush which also showed briefly.

Location of the Trogons

Red-headed Trogon - subspecies yamakanensis

Orange-headed Thrush

We took a nap at a temple, resting our tired legs. Wind was picking up and it certainly felt quite cold, especially when I didn't have any jacket with me. Birding was pretty slow in the afternoon, although we added Crested Goshawk and Besra. Chestnut Bulbuls and Mountain Bulbuls were both quite numerous. Two Ashy Drongos perched on the overhead cables. We also heard Chinese Bamboo Partridges calling. One of the better find in the afternoon was probably a single male Verditer Flycatcher, although it was quite distant.


Chestnut Bulbul

Mountain Bulbul

Ashy Drongo - leucogensis

Verditer Flycatcher - male

We got to the park entrance at around 5pm. The car park area was overgrown and felt strangely abandoned, but it seems many of the things were relatively new, including the gates. Why have they built them and left them be I have no idea, could be the fact that they don't have enough money? Either way, they have a park map which indicates the things they intend to build within the park, and I have a feeling that if they were to build them in the near future, this park will become much more popular and packed with tourists. At the meantime we were able to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Brother Kei didn't arrive to pick us up until 7pm, so we sat around for quite a bit. We listened out for owls but nothing much except a very distant Mountain Scops Owl. We spotted an Indochinese Forest Rat carrying some leafs along the roof of the park entrance, perhaps for making it's nest?

Car park near park entrance

Indochinese Forest Rat

All in all, I felt that Gutian holds enough interesting species to make it worthwhile for a short visit, although nothing majorly exciting, but given time there are certainly potential for more good findings, including Silver Pheasants which seems quite likely to occur here. Although the future planning for this area is uncertain due to the construction for the forest park, which could alter the quietness we experienced on this trip.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Tai Po Kau - Woodpeckers and More

Bay Woodpecker - star bird of the day

I received a very sudden request for a guided tour for a birder from the US around Hong Kong last Saturday. The most obvious place to start the day off and as an introduction to the forest birds of Hong Kong was at Tai Po Kau. I always explain to visitors that this is our prime forest site, but historically this forest is still very new while we are only starting to get a few more forest dependant species back in the last few decades or so. One of those species that we always aim for but by no means a guarantee species is no doubt the Bay Woodpecker, where we will most often hear but not see, even when we do see them it will likely be a fly by view at most. We were in for a treat that day, more of that later.

We started our morning at Tai Po Kau Park, always good to get some key species here early on. First bird seen was a leucogenis Ashy Drongo perched on the tree top. A small bird wave with Silver-eared Mesias, Scarlet Minivets, Grey-chinned Minivets, Black-winged Cuckooshrikes and Yellow-cheeked Tits were good appetisers. The best bird found there was a single Dollarbird that perched on a tree in the distant, first for me this autumn.

Ashy Drongo - leucogenis

Black-winged Cuckooshrike - male

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male


We headed up towards the reserve once it got brighter. A Crested Serpent Eagle perched by the roadside was more then welcoming, it allowed us to get pretty close and seemed quite at ease by ours and other hikers presence. Not every day do we get to observe this magnificent raptor for as long as we wanted.

Crested Serpent Eagle

A bit of "Action"...

There weren't that many birds once we got to the trails, though we still managed some commoner species such as Fork-tailed Sunbirds, Mountain Tailorbirds, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Chestnut Bulbuls and a Pygmy Wren Babbler which showed only very briefly. We got to Picnic Area 2 and I investigated some movements at the far end, yielding a small bird wave with mainly common species, although there were a pair of White-bellied Epornis which showed extremely well.

Mountain Tailorbird

White-bellied Epornis

Suddenly, I heard the call of the Bay Woodpecker. THAT would be a nice bird to see, I said to myself. I quickly played a burst of playback and waited and received a minute of silence. Just as I thought it wouldn't really come to us, a pair of large reddish brown woodpeckers flew over our heads and landed on a nearby tree! The pair circled around us a few more times, gave me the best look of this species in Hong Kong as I ever had! Despite their numbers increasing in recent years, they are still not an easy bird to see and remains to be a scarce resident. I have not seen them in Hong Kong for a long while, and it's nice to get a reminder that this great looking Woodpecker is now part of our native avifauna. Awesome!

Bay Woodpecker - male

Bay Woodpecker - female without the red nape patch

Finally, while on the way back down we got a great looking male Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker feeding on a low tree, again showing as well as any flowerpecker could! A great little bird to end the morning at Tai Po Kau. Sometimes even seeing a common bird well can be a high note.

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker - male

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Rescue Day

Occasionally while birdwatching, us birdwatchers have to take up the role for a bit of rescue work...Strangely enough an afternoon at Long Valley had me trying to help two birds, there weren't anything interesting enough to distract me that day.

First bird was an Oriental Turtle Dove that for some reason couldn't fly. I saw that it had some mud on it's wings and tails and presumed it had been stuck in the mud. I caught it and washed off the mud that stuck it's primaries together. It also had some feathers missing from it's head, not sure how that happened. I checked it's wings and it didn't have any open wounds, so for whatever reason that grounded the bird, I hope it was OK after I let it go...although it is most likely going to be an easy prey for the cats. So, in a way this was not much of a "rescue".

Oriental Turtle Dove

Washing off the mud on it's primaries

My dad spotted a Black Drongo stuck in a muddy pond, it couldn't move it's wings and could only move it's head up and down while it struggled. This is most likely a result of it being overly confident while chasing insects and ended up stuck in the thick mud. It wasn't a pretty sight and when us birdwatchers see something like this it's always hard to just stand there and watch. I went over to a farmer lady nearby and asked whether I can borrow a pair of wellies, but she didn't have any that would fit me, though she was kind enough to walk over to the pond and help rescue the bird from the thick mud!

Black Drongo - more like a muddy duck

The nice lady to the left handed me the Drongo

It was covered in mud, and drenched. In fear that it might get hypothermia we quickly wrapped the bird in a handkerchief and rushed back to the public toilet at Ho Sheung Heung to hopefully dry it off. The hand driers proved to be very effective, although we got some weird looks from other gentlemen visiting the men's room...The bird was pretty feisty and kept trying to bite me as I was getting the mud off it's chest and throat, a good sign.

Good old hand driers!

Once it's feathers were dried enough we brought it back outside and as I was letting go of the grip to see if it could stand on it's own, it took off! It managed to fly up to the closest tree on it's own, which was a relief. It was still looking very scruffy and I couldn't get all the mud off it's head, but at least it would live. Hopefully, a lesson learnt for the Drongo.

Not the best looking Black Drongo, but alive!