Thursday, 4 May 2017

Spring Summary

Dollarbird - nice to get them at home every year

Spring is coming to an end, with temperature up to 31°C on Buddha's Birthday, it surely feels like we are barely clinging onto the tail of spring. There's been very little bird movement at home, no flycatchers to note and lacking any interesting migrants. A pair of Blue Whistling Thrushes had been seen in the gully though, likely will start breeding soon at their previous nest site just across the road. They provided some great views the other day and allowed me to get quite close, this was taken in quite dim light handheld at 1/40.

Blue Whistling Thrush

The best migrants were probably a few Dollarbirds around the valley, they usually perch on the high voltage cables, where they appear like small dots on the wire. I was lucky and managed to snuck up to a few perched on a tall tree down the valley and got a decent view, not particularly close but closer then those on the wire. Dollarbirds are quite common during spring or autumn, but it's during spring that we see mature adults with bright red beaks and purple throats, their colours are also generally sharper.

Dollarbird - a spring and autumn staple in Hong Kong

A day trip to Cheung Chau at the end of April didn't produce much migrants, I got a few distant Grey-streaked Flycatchers, a few Arctic Warblers and a single Brown Shrike. The local Pacific Reef Egrets can always be seen around the beach, where they perch on the top of shark nets to hunt for small fishes below.

Brown Shrike - lucionensis

Pacific Reef Egret - coming in for the landing

I visited Po Toi Island for both the Labour Day holiday and Buddha's Birthday. On the ferry you can see plenty of Terns have returned on one of the offshore island, Bridled being most numerous but also a few Black-naped Terns around.

Bridled Tern - circling the island

Black-naped Tern

Things on the island were generally quiet on the two days, with a minimum amount of flycatchers, only a few Grey-streaked Flycatchers were seen dotted around. A pair of Mugimaki fluttered around the mangroves but not so well for photographs. Arctic Warblers were numerous but none showed very well, I missed the chance for the Large-billed Warbler earlier. A few Pacific Swifts drifted around in the bay, surprisingly this is the first photo I have ever taken of this species, not sure why but sometimes you do "forget" to take photos of the common birds.

Grey-streaked Flycatcher

Pacific Swift

Things got very excited on Monday when fellow birder Leo found himself face to face with an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher next to the helipad! We all darted there but the bird was nowhere to be seen. We waited around the area for the next eight hours but the bird was not what you call cooperative...It showed only once more that day and I received a brief flyby view of it. An amazing record for Hong Kong, only the second recorded, both in May. Certainly a species we should look out for in near future. Birders who went on the next day (not a public holiday) received much better treatment from the Kingfisher, with many able to get good photographs. I therefore tried again on Buddha's birthday along with Hoiling, but so did over sixty other birders...naturally a bird this rare and beautiful is worth twitching for. Unfortunately, the bird never showed and my guess was that it left the island early morning that day seeing the weather was clear. A bummer for all the birders wanting to catch a glimpse of this little jewel, and one nice holiday wasted!

I have to keep reminding myself that it's OK that I missed the opportunity for any photographs, at least I got this little guy on my HK checklist! It's not like I haven't seen one before either, flashback to my last Fraser's Hill visit, on our last morning we found an ODK trapped inside the hotel's restaurant! I later managed to grab the bird and brought it outside where it perched for a little while for us to enjoy in a more "natural" setting. But I guess seeing one at home still feels slightly different and just a little bit more exciting.

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher - a shot from Fraser's Hill

Seeing that the Kingfisher was a no-show (although many optimist waited), Hoiling and I joined Captain and his father, a long with John and Jemi Holmes on a short pelagic trip to the southern waters on Captain father's small fishing sampan. They have had a great morning and counted a total of six Short-tailed Shearwaters just south of Po Toi! This was a bird I have yet to tick off my Hong Kong list, so joining in the action seems like a better plan. I've never had much luck with these seabirds, I never seems to be able to connect with them whenever I am out at sea. Good news was that I managed to see a single bird that flew just above the water some distance away, unfortunately it was brief and was gone before I could reach for my camera. Oh well, you got to start somewhere! On our way back to Chai Wan we encountered a few more obliging Red-necked Phalaropes.

Red-necked Phalarope - coming into breeding plumage

So, that kind of sums up my spring adventures. Not terribly exciting but not half bad either, although many birds seems to have eluded me the whole time...Tomorrow I will be off to Cambodia on a little quest for some of the Cambodian specialties, hopefully my luck will be better there then at home! I am kind of counting on that!


  1. It was good to get your first ST Shear together...hope later ones pass closer, but it is really a lottery with them.

    1. Thanks John, I hope I get a closer look next year!

  2. You say it was not very exciting! Sounds fabulous to me, Matt!

    1. Thanks David, perhaps my hopes were quite high for other species which I missed! They do return annually though so I will get them next year!

  3. Hi, this is Ruth, an active eBirder based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I foolowed the link to your blog from your eBird profile page. Nice pics and interesting summary of your spring birding, and gorgeous shots of the Fairy Pitta!!

    I hope you enjoyed your birding visit to Cambodia, especially the Cambodian Tailorbirds, Bengal Florican, Prek Toal, and the various birding experiences you had here.

    I wanted to interact with some of your sightings as reported in three of your checklists from around Phnom Penh.
    When you entered Blue-throated Bee-eater, did you mean Blue-tailed? The latter are common around here, the former most unexpected.
    Chestnut-headed Bee-eater - also most unexpected around Phnom Penh, though I did get excited once thinking I'd seen this species; however they turned out to be immature Green Bee-eaters whose elongated central tail feathers had not yet grown out. There are quite a few young Greens around at the moment.
    Did you have a particular reason for identifying the swiftlets you saw as Himalayan? Most local birders put them down as Germain's, but since there are many swiftlet farms and they are so tricky to identify in the field, I personally usually enter them as 'dark swiftlet sp'.
    Would love a description of your Cook's Swifts. The splits from the former Fork-tailed Swifts are underdocumented as they pass over/through Phnom Penh on migration. Last year at this time of year I saw several that I identified as Pacific Swifts, but despite looking out for them this year I haven't managed to spot them again.
    Manchurian Reed Warbler - another unexpected species. I was at the same hotspot one week later and there were still Oriental Reed Warblers around and I identified my first Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers, but yours is the first report of Manchurian to eBird from Phnom Penh.
    Rufescent Prinia - a very unexpected species around here, more likely in the north of the country. The common baseline prinias here are Plain.
    Grey Bushchat and Red-throated Pipit - though rare, both have been reported in this area, but should have left on migration back in March. Paddyfield Pipit is the resident species still around, and I'd love a description of your Grey Bushchat.

    I hope this is not overstepping the bounds of birding and blogging etiquette, but reading your blog I see that you are a passionate birder and you care about birds and about their conservation and well-being. As you know, accurate data are important for driving conservation measures, but our Cambodian eBird filters are not very helpful, so I thought I'd try to contact you and initiate a discussion.
    All the best,

    1. Hi Ruth,

      Thank you for your message and your concerns about my Phnom Penh records are rightly so! I have to admit guilty about some of the incorrect records which I am fully aware of now, as I didn't have a bird guide with me during my few days stay at Phnom Penh, and I really didn't study enough (birds) before I visit to Cambodia this time. I did consult with my bird guide about these records and she already corrected most of them for me. Just that I have yet to correct them on my ebird account. So, apologies for my delayed correction, and very sorry if I have caused any false alarm for local birders in the region.

      As you know, whenever a birder visit a new area it's always exciting and even for some of the most common species can be different to those at home, such was the case for Plain Prinia, as they looked and sounded quite different to our subspecies in HK that I simply couldn't connect those in Cambodia with that species. The Swiftlets species I saw on another person's trip report to Cambodia (not on ebird) and they stated as Himalayan, that's the reason I put it as that, and I thought the forked tailed swifts were similar to our pacific swifts but with dark rump, although plainly they turned out to be most likely Asian Palm Swift, although I must say those in Cambodia have shorter tails then any of this species I have seen. Grey Bushchat was probably a Pied Bushchat female, a species I am not particularly familiar with. For Manchurian Reed I actually wanted to put Oriental, so I must have put that in as mistake.

      Although for Red-throated I was actually quite confident as this was a familiar species for me and I heard and saw the flying bird, unfortunately though I did not have a photo to proof it, but I regularly see them in Hong Kong and their call is really very distinct, as was the red throat at this time of the year!

      Hope this clear things up a little for you and sorry again if I have caused any trouble.


  4. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for your confiding and friendly reply. I see that you have indeed 'cleaned up' your Phnom Penh lists - thank you. Not too many visiting birders take the trouble to do that. The information you give about your Red-throated Pipit sighting is great. With that sort of detail the reaction of local birders to your sighting changes from skeptical to excited - we can look out for this species even so late in the year as the migration passage window may be longer than we had thought!
    I had a look through some of the other pages on your blog and really enjoyed reading part 1 of your Cambodia trip report and look forward to the next installment. I appreciate you putting in some of the historical and social context as well as the birding highlights. Some fantastic photos there - I hope you will consider putting some of them up on your eBird checklists as well for the rest of the birding world to enjoy!
    It is also great that you include your church visits in your trip report. It is lovely to know of another fellow Christian birder - there are several of us that I know of here in Cambodia, but only one other on eBird.
    After reading your blog, I hope that one day I will have the privilege and pleasure of visiting Hong Kong and birding in some of your favourite spots one day!
    God bless, Ruth.