Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Rarities and Surprises - Mai Po and Lok Ma Chau

There are days where birding seems slow, but there are also days when everything seems to go your way. Today was one of those days. I took a whole day off after weeks of intensive work on our Pak Sha O book launch. I really needed a break from work.

I started my day early at Mai Po, where reports of a Cotton Pygmy Goose at pond #20 have been circling around the HKBWS forum, considered a major rarity in Hong Kong, this is only the 6th or 7th record(?). Autumn in general is a good time for migrants at Mai Po, with many flycatchers and warblers, so I thought it was worth a shot to walk around the nature reserve for half a day. Immediately near the AFCD warden post I found this very showy Common Kingfisher, always a nice bird to see up close. Not too far away, a flock of Chinese Grosbeak perched on a tree, a good returning migrant thats now heading south to winter, many will remain in Hong Kong throughout the winter months.

Common Kingfisher

Chinese Grosbeak

Inside the reserve, I headed over the bird hide #1, on the way photographing a Little Grebe at fairly close range. There were quite a few waders at the Geiwai but most were too far away, with my bins I identified Curlews, Black-tailed Godwits, Greenshanks, Marsh Sandpipers, Redshanks, Spotted Redshanks, Broad-billed Sandpiper and most notably a single Red-necked Phalarope. I am sure I missed many, but without a telescope it's was hopeless and I didn't even bother to try.

Little Grebe

Red-necked Phalarope

I quickly moved on towards pond #20, not a soul seen at the spot. I stationed myself at the little house and waited. Things were quiet for the next 30 minutes or so, but all of a sudden out of nowhere, the bird appeared right next to the platform I was standing on! A tiny little water fowl, swam out from the tall grass it was hiding in. Soon after, a group of birders and photographers arrived, the bird showed for a little while but decided it disliked the crowd and flew off to the far side of the pond. Amongst the birders was Nigel Oh from Singapore! What were the chances, shame we couldn't arrange to bird together for your visit this time, I am sure we will next time round. Here are the best shots of the CPG I managed on the day, not perfect but much better then those I had years before.

Cotton Pygmy Goose

A walk around various paths in Mai Po yielded good results, including a personal record breaking high count of over 20 Asian Brown Flycatchers! There must have been one on every tree I went past! It was hard to get away from them!

Asian Brown Flycatcher - one of the many!

I had a good variety of phylloscopus warblers to challenge myself. I have always found identifying them tricky. A Pale-legged Leaf Warbler made an appearance, it gave it's identity away from it's continuous tail flicking and it's distinctive metallic "chink"call. The next was a little more tricky, a warbler with 2 wing bars, slightly larger then our "default" Yellow-browed Warbler, with greyish legs and a pinkish orange lower mandible. It remained very silent as I observed it, and I couldn't get a good photograph of it because it was so quick. With the supercilium not joining the base of the bill, I am betting it's identity as a Two-barred Greenish Warbler. I am however very open to suggestions. A Yellow-browed Warbler nearby gave good comparison. Dusky Warblers were also everywhere, mainly heard but many were seen as well.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler

Two-barred Warbler (I think)

Yellow-browed Warbler

Dusky Warbler

A Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike gave good views, they tend to like Delonix regia trees as I have observed throughout the years, however for reasons I do not understand, I am guessing there are particular type of insects that they like on those trees? This one was found on one of those trees at first, later flew to another.

Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike - foraging on a Delonix regia tree

At the rain shelter, I spotted a male Black-naped Monarch. A common species in both Taiwan and South East Asia, we only get this species as migrant or winter visitors. I usually see females and have not seen a male in Hong Kong for a very long time, a very handsome bird indeed! The best bird there however must be a single Thick-billed Warbler; a rare migrant that I have not seen for over a decade! It was a very shy bird, giving really terrible views half the time. I managed a few photographs when it suddenly decided to hop out from the thick undergrowth, this half decent photo is the best one I got. A truly amazing warbler species, this huge warbler is the same size as a Bulbul, it can erect and flatten it's crest. A very secretive Lanceolated Warbler lurked nearby, I glimpsed it's beautiful patterns before it melted into the undergrowth and out of sight. I also saw my first Black-browed Reed Warbler of the season, but again too quick for any photographs.

Black-naped Monarch - male

Thick-billed Warbler - A star skulker!

After Mai Po, I decided to head towards Lok Ma Chau, where David Chan have recommended the area after spotting a Pheasant-tailed Jacana at a water lily pond. It's a less explored part of New Territories for me, the former Frontier Closed Area was finally opened to public in 2013. Habitat looks promising, with a small patch of farmland that resembles Long Valley, most of the area were fishponds. A good variety of birds were seen upon arrival, including a flock of Red-throated Pipits and Scaly-breasted Munias. A very bold Black Drongo gave great views, and an Oriental Reed Warbler popped up from the tall grass. Other birds included Asian Brown Flycatchers (again!) and Sooty-headed Bulbuls.

Farmland at Lok Ma Chau

Typical view of frontier areas in Hong Kong, a stark contrast to Shenzhen.

Scaly-breasted Munia

Red-throated Pipit - one of many

Black Drongo

Oriental Reed Warbler

I quickly found the water lily pond David talked about, it was a well maintained pond with a lovely carpet of water lilies. I looked around for the Jacana but did not see it, however I flushed a female Watercock from the tall grass at the edge of the pond! A complete surprise! Watercocks are really quite uncommon nowadays due to habitat loss, so it's always a thrill to see one. A White-breasted Waterhen carefully navigate around the pond. A White Wagtail fluttered about the pond, it makes a good composition when it landed on the water lilies.

Water Lily Pond

Watercock - female

White-breasted Waterhen

White Wagtail

Finally, after some waiting the star bird arrived! A Pheasant-tailed Jacana, it wasn't shy and fed around the lily-pads. A rather peculiar species, it's elongated toes helps to keep it from sinking into the water, distributing it's weight perfectly on the floating plants. A Chinese Pond Heron also skulked nearby, not as graceful though. This former breeder is now becoming rarer in recent years due to local habitat loss, it's now a passage migrant in Hong Kong, recorded mainly in Spring or Autumn.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Chinese Pond Heron - with the Jacana in the background!

Pheasant-tailed Jacana - smile!

I observed the bird till the sun dropped low. The Jacana posed for a close-up portrait which ended the day perfectly. Birding don't get much better then this!

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