Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Close Encounters of the "Bird" Kind

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - one of the shopping mall's new attraction

As we birders all know, birds can literally turn up anywhere anytime. This was indeed the case for two locustella warblers that turned up at some hedges within a shopping mall complex at the heart of Kowloon earlier this week. The shopping mall is often packed with people and this was the last place you would expect for any rarity to turn up. But, an unusually timed Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (they're usually passage migrants) plus a very rare Baikal Bush Warbler took up resident at this most unlikely location.

I took a few hours on Monday morning before work to look for the two birds, the Baikal Bush Warbler was showing well, but not so easy to photograph...I only managed one half decent shot after hours of trying. But, I guess this is already quite good for bush warbler standard. Key diagnostic features to separate Baikal from the very similar Spotted Bush Warbler are supposedly broader white tips to under tail coverts and generally more pointed wings. The first feature I could pick out quite well, the second feature I don't feel so confident about, mainly because I don't have much to compare this with...I will trust the experts who have had hands on experience with these locustella warblers.

Baikal Bush Warbler - doesn't make it easier despite how confiding it is...

Half of the time too close for me to focus with my 500mm lens

The Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler on the other hand was much more showy, boarder lining BIZARRE...At one point the warbler hopped onto the tiled ground to look for food just like a sparrow would do. It felt so strange to be looking at one of the most skulking warbler being very non-skulky. But, I am not complaining! As my best view of this species had previously been birds flying away from me as I flush them out from a field, not what you call a great view. So, I sure did enjoyed these amazingly close encounters while it lasted! Since then these two warblers had became a bit of a local celebrity, even local residents were interested to know what everyone were trying to photograph.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - fancy a swim?

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - 
well marked crown, mantle and wing coverts, darker sub-terminal band with white tail tips

Other then birding in shopping malls, I have also been out a few times in New Territories birding in the past two weeks. Great birds includes three Common Rosefinch at Shek Kong Airfield Road on the 14th, a Japanese Sparrowhawk at Long Valley on the 21st, but neither of them provided me with any satisfactory photographic opportunities unlike the following birds...While I was not having much luck with any other Buntings, Little Buntings had filled in the large gap of this genre. Here, a confiding individual at San Tin as well as one from Long Valley to stick with the "close encounters" theme

Little Bunting - 
equally confiding birds from San Tin (top) and the other from Long Valley (bottom)

Siberian Stonechats are of course extremely friendly as always and make great photographic subjects. A very confiding Common Tailorbird at Long Valley was also nice, a species you don't get to see this well everyday. A frame filling Long-tailed Shrike was too tempting for me not to take a portrait of this handsome bird, who could say no to this pretty face? Chinese Pond Herons also provided some great close up photos at Long Valley.

Siberian Stonechat

Common Tailorbird

Long-tailed Shrike

Chinese Pond Heron

Oriental Turtle Doves are always nice to see and can be a nice change from the usual Spotted Doves. Red-throated Pipits still in good numbers with plenty at Long Valley as well as San Tin. Also plentiful at Long Valley were numerous Common Snipes with a few Swintails, although I couldn't manage any photographs of the latter. Also at Long Valley, a handsome male Daurian Redstart that had taken up position near Ho Sheung Heung.

Oriental Turtle Dove

Red-throated Pipit - non-breeding plumage

Common Snipe

Daurian Redstart - male

Not all birds like to come close, most of the time they like to stay well away from people. One of them was this Bull-headed Shrike at Long Valley, I think this one had been around for sometime, although a bit far it was nice to finally caught up with it. Common Mynas were regularly seen, although not always easy to get any decent photographs, they usually fly off before I get the chance to get any closer.

Bull-headed Shrike - it was gone before I could even get closer...

Common Myna

Finally, some flight shots of birds to wrap things up before Chinese New Year! Wishing you all a birdy and exciting year of the rooster!

Collared Crow

Pied Avocet

Eastern Buzzard


  1. Great series of images, Matt. Birds do tend to confound us sometimes when they show up in the most unexpected locations. I am looking forward to seeing you soon!

  2. Little Bunting is my favourite of a good bunch !