Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Birding Between Two Years

Yellow-cheeked Tit - one of Tai Po Kau's stunning residents

Year end always seems to be exciting for birds, and somehow it feels like if you end it well, you will start it well. 2016 had been an interesting year in terms of birds, there were quite a few birds that had been very high on my wish list for years, finally getting them was exciting and made this year all that more memorable. I will go back to review the past year in another post...

31st of December was my last birding day in 2016, Hoiling and I decided to give Tai Po Kau one last visit. Things started off pretty slowly, we didn't really encounter any proper viewable feeding flocks until we got to the AFCD warden's quarters. The first bird that greeted us was none other then the common Oriental Magpie Robin, a species I usually take little notice of, but since this handsome guy perched very still I felt bad not to take a photo.

Oriental Magpie Robin - handsome male

The feeding flock was quite high up, there were some warblers, a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher and I spotted a single Verditer Flycatcher, but none really gave good views. A female Fork-tailed Sunbird was the only bird that gave a decent look. on the other side of the road however, a Crested Goshawk perched silently on a bare tree, seems to be enjoying the early morning sun, it gave all the birds a good fright later when it flew off.

Fork-tailed Sunbird - female

Crested Goshawk

Things got better afterwards, we encountered quite a few feeding flocks and nearly all the birds gave excellent views for as long as we wanted! Mainly the usual suspects, with exception of the Goodson's Leaf Warbler which gave a fairly good view even of it's crown stripe, the Eastern Crowned Warbler was however much less obliging and only gave a brief look. Other more common birds such as Blue-winged Minla also gave very close views, the Yellow-cheeked Tits were especially entertaining as they carefully check the branches throughly for insects. Velvet-fronted Nuthatches were again everywhere.

Goodson's Leaf Warbler - one of the most easily recognisable leaf warblers in HK

Blue-winged Minla

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

The Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers were again very cooperative. I've had so much luck with them lately after many years failing to get any decent photos! Quite a few of them were seen with a large feeding flock, again coming in extremely close. It's always so amazing to be able to get so close to these brilliant looking birds.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Other then brilliant looking birds, we also got some pretty good looking butterflies, including an uncommon Painted Jezebel, a Common Mapwing which is one of my all time favourite butterflies, and a Purple Sapphire.

Painted Jezebel

Common Mapwing

Purple Sapphire

In the afternoon, my father joined me at San Tin to look for the recently found Booted Warbler, still an absolute mega rarity in Hong Kong after last year's bird. It wasn't long before we were looking at this rare vagrant. I saw the birds from Mai Po last year but this was a lifer for my father, we ended the day with a beautiful sunset over Lok Ma Chau, a great way to end 2016!

Booted Warbler

On 2nd of January my father and I met with Jeff Lauffer; a visiting birder from the USA, to try for a few target birds he is still missing on his Hong Kong trip before he fly home. At 7am we headed into She Shan near Lam Tsuen to try our luck early morning. The first bird we saw was a pair of brilliant looking Common Kingfishers over the river. Also on the river was a rather confiding Green Sandpiper, it finally flew off when it had enough of us talking about it.

Common Kingfisher - female

Green Sandpiper

The long grass in the area is traditionally a great area for Bright-capped Cisticolas, and very soon we heard one calling in the grass, but this one did not respond much to the recording and remained largely out of sight. The Plain Prinias though were very active and were perching right out in the open. Scaly-breasted Munias were also present. We also had at least 6 or 7 calling Siberian Rubythroats in the grass, but only one gave us a glimpse.

Plain Prinia

Scaly-breasted Munia

We heard many of the species we had already seen at Tai Po Kau the other day, in addition we got Hair-crested Drongos perched in a tree nearby, managed to get a rather "artistic" shot of the bird. A few Eurasian Magpies also perched on top of trees in early morning. We heard the Lesser Coucal that Jeff needed, but the bird did not show, we still considered that to be lucky as they don't usually call often at this time of the year. We later found an Asian Brown Flycatcher at Golden Triangle which was also a target bird for Jeff.

Hair-crested Drongo

Eurasian Magpie

We gave Shek Kong Airfield a try next. Many Yellow-browed Warblers around but overall a bit quiet, there are no reports of Common Rosefinches yet, probably not quite cold enough. A tree full of mistletoe gave us fairly good views of a female Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, we even observed the female "spreading" the mistletoe seeds with her rear end. We did manage to find two Chinese Grosbeaks, one of them perched very still for a good look. The best bird there though was probably a single Pale Thrush, easily recognisable with the two white spots on the tail.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker - female

Chinese Grosbeak - male

We gave San Tin a go next, hoping to get the Booted Warbler. The bird was however a no show after we waited for over half an hour, we got another of Jeff's target bird as we waited though; a Greater Spotted Eagle, soaring along the horizon of Shenzhen very far away. The ID was conclusive when just a few minutes later we spotted another eagle along the same area, but this time a much larger Imperial Eagle, with much longer tail and a bright head. Seeing that we were having no luck despite the many eyes at the Booted Warbler spot, we decided to go for lunch before we headed into Lok Ma Chau for a quick look. Lok Ma Chau only added a few common species to our day list, most notably two Purple Herons which was a first for me in this area, plus a flock of Eurasian Teals that were strangely diving like Tufted Ducks, a behaviour we have never seen nor heard...

Purple Heron - a first for me at Lok Ma Chau

Long Valley was next, we mainly hoped to find the Citrine Wagtail which was high on Jeff's wish list. Things started off slowly with a funny looking Red-eared Slider...Common Snipes were in quite good numbers as well, although we could not find any Pin-tailed Amongst them. Good news was that I managed to relocate the Painted Snipe on another pond, but they were again very very skulking and allowed only some very obscured views, at least I know where they are now!

Red-eared Slider

Common Snipe

The usual suspects were there, including many White-rumped Munias. A few Little Buntings were again on their favourite tree, they weren't doing much and mainly just sat there the whole time we were at Long Valley. The confiding Cattle Egrets had became a regular sight at Long Valley lately. We also managed to find a single Buff-bellied Pipit amongst the flock of Red-throated.

White-rumped Munia

Little Bunting

Cattle Egret

Buff-bellied Pipit

The Citrine Wagtail was not at it's "usual" spot, just as we thought we won't have any luck finding it, I spotted one in amongst a flock of Eastern Yellow Wagtails on the Arrowhead field! The bird provided amazing views for the next couple of minutes, allowing us to really enjoy all it's diagnostic features! An exciting moment for us all, and I was so glad Jeff got this lifer finally. The bird later perched along with an Eastern Yellow Wagtail with the same pose, giving a very good "comparison shot".

Citrine Wagtail - finding the bird was one of the great moments of the day!

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - taivana

To end our day, we decided to give the Booted Warbler one last try. A lot of birders were waiting for the bird when we arrived at San Tin. They were however having no luck...apparently the bird appeared only once at 1pm before disappearing again for the next few hours! We waited for around thirty minutes, locking our bins onto pretty much every warbler that foraged along the trees. Suddenly, someone spotted the warbler dropping down into the bushes next to the fishpond. We all followed and soon had some obscured but identifiable views of the warbler, the bird was kind enough to perch and preen at a single spot allowing us to get a good look, making this Jeff's 4th lifer that day! And what a bird to end our first day of birding in 2017!

Booted Warbler - could not have asked for a better bird to end the day with!


  1. What a stunning collection, Matt. Everything I have read about Tai Po Kau indicates that on a given day the birding there can be truly spectacular. I am really partial to nuthatches and that Velvet-fronted Nuthatch would be a delightful lifer for me. I have seen twelve of the world's nuthatches and I think that if I were younger I would try to see all of the world's species. Now whether I would want to venture into Algeria for the Algerian Nuthatch is another matter entirely!

    1. Thanks David, yes Tai Po Kau can be really good on some days, although on other days you spend over half the time wondering where all the birds gone. Velvet-fronted Nuthatches are not difficult in HK now, they are very well established and I've seen them even in quite urban areas, so hopefully you can add this one onto your collection soon!