Thursday, 26 May 2016

Birding in the Clouds

Took a day off to bird with David and Tom at Tai Mo Shan this morning. Weather wasn't too bad by the looks of it but clouds were quite low, which meant the summit area would be clouded over. We decided to go ahead anyway, so I picked up the guys at Tsuen Wan and drove straight up there. It was just before 7:30am when we arrived, as we started to walk up and into the white mist. Tai Mo Shan become a dreamy landscape in such conditions, and you start to see things that simply aren't there (spooky~), well mostly just shapes on rocks or trees that resembles birds...

We arrived at the usual birding spot and had a pair of Chinese Francolins calling, after a few tries by everyone on possible silhouette on various rocks, David picked out the bird properly calling from an exposed rock. It was calling continuously and we couldn't see it's markings clearly, only feature you can pick out slightly is the white white cheek and throat and the spotted markings on it's body. It's my first photographic record of this species, but it's not what you call a great photograph exactly. Still, better then nothing!

Chinese Francolin - "Come to the Peak, Haha!"

The guys walking up into the misty summit

Brown-flanked Bush Warblers were again very vocal and we picked one up on the way, this one was close enough that the mist did not really affect the photo. The Russet Bush Warbler; another breeding warbler species on Tai Mo Shan was heard calling, but remained distant.

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler

I walked with the guys back to the area where I saw the Grassbird a few days ago, but with no luck. The area was in general very quiet, not even a Parrotbill in sight. So, we walked further up to the summit area. We decided to walk to the northern side of Tai Mo Shan, past the radar station on the summit and down the stretch of Maclehose Trail section 8 towards Leadmine Pass. That's an area we have rarely explored so we thought it maybe a good place to look for Upland Pipits.

We past a disused barrack which was built back in the colonial era, by the looks of it the building must have been abandoned for over two decades. The mist added a hint of spookiness to the place. It's around the fence of this area that we found a few Vinous-throated Parrotbills, again they were difficult to photograph and I only managed a record shot of one.

Disused Tai Mo Shan Barracks

Vinous-throated Parrotbill - record shot

We walked further and soon were looking at the northern slopes towards Lam Kam Road. The mist did not show signs of clearing, and strong winds were blowing constantly, making listening out for birds that much harder.

View towards Lam Kam Road, the northern slopes of Tai Mo Shan

We got to the end of the concrete road and onto footpaths, here we follow a ridge heading eastwards. The habitat looks promising with good stretches of open grassland and short bamboos, however bird activities were slow. A few Richard's Pipit stood on the rocks which gave false hopes for Upland Pipits, but our target bird never showed, not even a single call was heard. The rapid decline of this species is truly alarming, and the fact that no one really knows the reason behind the decline is even more worrying. We encountered nothing much except for a good size herd of grazing cattle. I played recordings of several different species a long the way but nothing responded. Only a very distant Chinese Grassbird was heard.

Disappointingly, good habitat for Upland Pipit...

Grazing cattle

Just as we got to a point where we thought we wouldn't see anything interesting and wanted to turn around, we heard the call of a Chinese Grassbird nearby and soon located the bird calling from some tall grass and bamboos. This one showed for a few minutes, hopping in and out of the bamboos. At one point it got close enough for a better photo. This individual had some kind of lump growing at the base of it's lower mendible, it look healthy enough but I hope it's not something serious. Feeling that our walk had not been wasted, we turned around back towards the radar station.

Chinese Grassbird - a hard earned bird!

The mist did not lift, in fact the weather got even worst when rain started to fall. Although I did not bring an umbrella, it was fortunate that I at least have a rain cover for my camera which came in handy. The walk back up the slope took a bit more effort, but we were rewarded when we reached the radar station. A Russet Bush Warbler called close by, it's "zee-bit, zee-bit" call was diagnostic. I played a burst of playback and sure enough it responded! Giving us some fairly good views (in the mist), it's in fact the first time I have seen this species so clearly. The photograph did not show up too well originally, but thanks to a bit of post-production I was able to bring back some contrast to the image. Proper summer will be assuming in a few days, here comes the quiet season!

Misty and raining...

Russet Bush Warbler - a usually secretive species, I wonder if the mist made it feel safe


  1. This is TMS as I seem to experience it, except with more birds !

    1. I mean, I usually get mist and cattle !

    2. I guess the area is quite big that it's not always easy to locate the "hotspots", I find that I rarely find the birds there at the same location twice.