Sunday, 3 January 2016

A Wonderful Start to 2016 - ticks!

If you are to categorise birdwatchers into several categories such as twitchers, tickers, leisure birders and hardcore photographers, I guess I will place myself as a ticker. Tickers are in many sense similar to twitchers I suppose? But my urge for some rarities are somewhat less strong, whereas twitchers go all out for every rarity out there. (At least that's how I understand it, there maybe other interpretations) But knowing that a rarity is in an easy to reach place is very good reason to pop in for a tick! That was exactly what I did on the second day of 2016. A flock of Northern House Martins were spotted at Tam Kon Chau Road recently, these are much rarer then our default Asian House Martins which we get annually. The subspecies lagopodum Northern House Martins are known to winter in South East Asia but rarely ventures eastwards to South East China.

Upon arriving at the known location, a quick scan with my bins had me looking at what no doubt were House Martins...but which species?! I got out of my car and went for a closer look, only to find the birds had all but disappeared! I spent the next half an hour looking all over the place, but with little luck. When I got back to the main road I yet again saw a few House Martins flying about the same location as before! I quickly dashed towards them and finally confirmed that at least one of the three birds was a Northern House Martin! You can easily tell them apart with the more common Asian House Martins by their bright white rumps that extends all the way to the top of the tail feathers. It took me another half an hour at least to finally get some decent record shots of them as they disappear on and off from the site. I counted around 4 - 5 individuals, with at least 1 dirty looking immature bird. They remained in sight for quite a long while, even waited for my Father whom arrived by taxi after work! So, our first Hong Kong tick of 2016!

Northern House Martin - first tick of 2016!

The immature individual with "dirty" underside

Other birds in the area included a lot of Silky Starlings. Many different flocks were present and at one point a few dozens drank from a fishpond. I spotted a few Great Mynas amongst the common Crested Mynas, they pop out from the flock with their bright orange beak and legs, but views weren't very good as they remained very skittish and flew away upon approach. I consider this a "tick" too as it's a first for me in Hong Kong, but no doubt these are part of a small feral population of ex-captive individuals, it's likely that they may breed and multiply in the future though.

Silky Starling - at the waterhole!

Great Myna - alongside Crested Mynas in the background

Satisfied with our views of the Martins, we headed off to Long Valley for a quick visit. Things were pretty quiet at first, but a crowd of photographers congregated at a fields where a pair of Plaintive Cuckoos had been active, we waited around for a while but they never showed. Only a few Prinias darted about, one Yellow-bellied Prinia was already in song! In January?

Yellow-bellied Prinia - in song January!

As we waited, I received a call from Benjiman that he spotted a Bright-capped Cisticola in another field not far off, so off we went! Bright-capped Cisticolas are not rare in Hong Kong but they are not exactly common either, and good views are also not easy to come by for this shy natured species. When we got there, the bird was nothing but shy! Calling constantly it's cat like call and fluttered about on the tall grass for a good few minutes. A few common Zitting Cisticolas were around to provide good comparison, it's clear that Bright-caps have much longer tail feathers, are overall much darker in appearance, and lack of any white feathers on it's lores. The call is also unmistakable and very much diagnostic.

Bright-capped Cisticola - calling away it's distinctive song

Zitting Cisticola - the similar looking neighbour that is far more common

A final little show on a close branch by the Cisticola and it disappeared into the tall grass and never to emerge again. Thankful for this brief encounter, the little bird left us feeling quite contented. A flock of nine Rose-ringed Parakeet fly-by ended our day, a species that is more common in urban areas, they have been spreading their territories into New Territories in recent years. A really wonderful start to this new year, and no doubt much to look forward to in the many months to come!

Bright-capped Cisticola - posing for the final shot!

Rose-ringed Parakeet - an unusual sight at Long Valley


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