Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Searching for the Chinese Grassbird

Chinese Grassbird (Graminicola striatus) is a recently recognised species that was split from the Rufous-rumped Grassbird a few years ago. The former species have now been split into two separate species; the Indian Grassbird (Graminicola bengalensis) that can be found in Bangladesh and West Nepal, and the Chinese Grassbird that can be found in Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan including Hong Kong. The split was made based on morphological, genetics and difference in vocalisation. The split is currently accepted by the IOU.

Discovered on Hainan island in 1892, Chinese Grassbird have only been recorded twice outside of Hong Kong in the last 80 years or so. Once in Guangxi and once at Shenzhen. Hong Kong have became the only place in the world to have regular sightings of this species. Highly localised to suitable grassland, this species can be found at various sites in Hong Kong, mainly on grassy hill tops. One of the best site for this species must be near the summit of Tai Mo Shan (Highest peak in Hong Kong), where they are regularly seen and heard during breeding months. They are known to descend to lower altitudes during winter. With such limited range, the estimated global population of the Chinese Grassbird is as less as a few hundred individuals still surviving in the wild.

Chinese Grassbird (Graminicola striatus)

Me and Long Long were out early to try look for this bird, arriving at Tai Mo Shan summit at around 7am. The summit was packed with tourists watching the sunrise, luckily they were on their way down while we were on our way up, no conflict there! After a short walk we arrived at the regular site of this species, the weather was clear and cloudless with stunning views overlooking the whole of Hong Kong.

Morning lights on Tai Mo Shan

Suitable habitat for Chinese Grassbird

View of the summit

Birding was slow at first, very little were seen, only Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers calling everywhere. Things got going when Long Long saw what he described as a Deer in the tall grass, and what may it be but a Red Muntjac! This is one of our larger mammal species in Hong Kong, a small Deer however. They are not rare, but good views are hard to come by.

Red Muntjac

We heard the Chinese Grassbird called a few times but it didn't show. We pressed on and found a Richard's Pipit singing around the large boulders, it was singing a song in flight which I am guessing is a courtship display as I don't hear them do that often in the winter. A male Blue Rock Thrush joined in briefly, however stayed quite far away.

Richard's Pipit

Blue Rock Thrush

Just as we thought all hope was gone and was about to head back downhill, we heard the call of the Chinese Grassbird again! This time much closer, and soon enough we locked our bins onto a single bird singing away from the tall grass. Views for such skulking species can be frustrating, but this one was very kind to us and gave us a good show for a few minutes! Interestingly, this species was formerly considered a warbler, only later found to be relating much more closely to the babblers. 

Chinese Grassbird

Feeling amazingly lucky, we headed back down, on the way seeing a Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler which showed itself very briefly. A few Vinous-throated Parrotbill went passed, a real local speciality that shares the same habitat as the Grassbird, but were too quick for any photographs.

Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler

After Tai Mo Shan, we decided to give Kadoorie Farm a go. Known as KFBG (Kadoorie Farm & Botanical Garden), this experimental farm sits at the base of Tai Mo Shan. Recent goodies includes a male Mrs Gould's Sunbird, which I didn't have time to go see last month. We chose walking over shuttle bus up to Kwun Yam Shan. The hike take us through a few forest trails, which produced some locally common species in forms of Grey-chinned Minivet, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia and Yellow-cheeked Tit.

Grey-chinned Minivet

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Silver-eared Mesia

Yellow-cheeked Tit

We arrived at the platform near Kwun Yam Shan summit where the Sunbird's been spotted feeding on the coral flower trees a month ago. The bird never showed. Red-whiskered Bulbuls were everywhere, and a few Mountain Bulbul did drop by and gave some cracking views! These are the best photographs I have taken of this species in Hong Kong so far.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Mountain Bulbul

On the way down we saw a Changeable Lizard, all red faced after basking in the sun. A very common reptile species in Hong Kong.

Changeable Lizard

After lunch we briefly visited Long Valley, where we found a few Painted Snipes, they are getting harder to find with each visit now the grass and weeds are growing at a tremendous rate! A Spotted Redshank was also present.

Painted Snipe

Spotted Redshank

Spring migration's been terrible for me this year so far, not a single Flycatcher! I wonder where all the birds gone?


  1. Wish I'd noted this before yesterday, we tried Robin's Nest for the Grassbird, but much of it was burned off !

  2. I am guessing the tomb sweeping had something to do with the burned hills...Hopefully they will come back in time! I have always found the Tai Mo Shan birds a bit more stable, but I guess as with other birds you can never be so sure when you are trying to look for them!

  3. Your Grassbird shot will soon be gracing the cover of Bulletin 237 - Well Done!

    1. Thanks John! Will be the first time my photo is on the cover! how exciting!