Sunday, 30 October 2016

Vagrant From The West - Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gull - a rare vagrant to Hong Kong

News got around of a Slender-billed Gull present out at Deep Bay on Friday. This is a rare vagrant, with only a handful of records previously, I was extremely fortunate to have seen the last one back in 2008 also at Deep Bay during the Big Bird Race that year. Somehow, I never got around to take any photos of the bird at that time. So I've always been on the look out for another one to turn up someday, and upon hearing the news I thought it was best to head out as soon as I could. Although I had to work on Saturday, I didn't need to get back to office until noon, and checking the tide confirms that it was going to be an early tide with 1.95m at around 8am, which seems to give me enough time to look for the bird before work.

I woke up before 6am, it was still dark outside. I quickly got dressed and soon arriving at Mai Po just around 7am, I didn't stop to scan the flock of swifts or martins along the way as I didn't want to miss the tide. Straight out to the north hide I went! I made it just in time before the tide came in, plenty of birders were earlier then me. It wasn't long until someone spotted the gull far out on the mud flat. Being the only smallish gull out there it really stuck out like a sore thumb. We were hoping that it will come in with the tide, but after a few minutes the bird took to the air and we followed it until it went out of sight as it flew towards Tsim Bei Tsui.

"That was that!" I thought to myself, pretty convinced that it won't be hurrying back anytime soon. Never mind, plenty to look at out on the mud flat, including a few Far-Eastern Curlews. Wintering Black-faced Spoonbills had started to arrive, quite a few showing well.

Slender-billed Gull - far far away...

Far-Eastern Curlew

Black-faced Spoonbill

There wasn't that many waders around to look at, the Black-tailed Godwits were way out there. Mostly just common stuff like Greenshanks, Redshanks or Marsh Sandpipers. A pair of Temminck's Stints made an appearance shortly. There were plenty of Intermediate Egrets around, one with a muddy beak came close to the hide. Great Cormorants numbers had increased dramatically, and the numbers will continue to increase in the coming month. A few Collared Crows came closer to the hide and gave decent views, constantly cawing loudly.

Black-tailed Godwits

Temminck's Stint

Intermediate Egret

Great Cormorant

Collared Crow

There were only a few large gulls present, mainly the few over summering Mongolian Gulls. A single 1st winter gull stood out from the crowd, presumably a 1st winter Vega. We will have to wait a little longer until we get more wintering gulls, not a single Black-headed Gulls in sight was a bit surprising!

Mongolian Gull - paler on the head and chest is a feature even for immature birds

Vega Gull - a 1st winter bird

The tide was near 2m by 8am, many of the waders had settled and started roosting in the shallows. I was casually scanning towards the left of the bird hide when I noticed a smallish gull swimming towards us, the longish bill and pale eyes made it instantly recognisable. The Slender-billed had swam back! Rejoice for everyone! It later roosted with the Greenshanks, presumably because they were of similar size...the larger gulls didn't seem to like it and chased it away when the poor vagrant approached them. Slender-billed Gulls have a natural breeding range in the Mediterranean and winter south to northern Africa and India. Only very occasionally wandering far east to Japan and Thailand, this is only the 5th record in Hong Kong (I think).

Slender-billed Gull - good size comparison between the Greenshanks and Little Egret

The bird gave excellent views for the next hour, and entertained everyone with a variety of expressions and poses. A happy ending for me as I happily left the bird hide by 9:30am with a smile on my face and off to work. You can't get more efficient birding then this!

Slender-billed Gull - what more can you ask for from a lost bird


  1. Every time I see a post from Mai Po it simply whets my appetite more and more! I would love to have been present when the Slender-billed Gull was there.

    1. Shame that gull did not stay long, I don't think it had been spotted since. But plenty of other interesting species there atm though!