Monday, 5 February 2018

Cold Spell - Birding's Magic

Mugimaki Flycatcher

Start of February and we are experiencing some pretty bitter cold, Tai Mo Shan froze over and temperature dropped down to -1.8℃, while temperature around New Territories dropped to just 4℃. Weather like this certainly affects the birds, I experienced this first hand when I saw this dead Common Tailorbird which couldn't make it through the bitter night. Although in general colder weather means that birds in general are easier to observe, with some often shy species changing their behaviour completely, it's a good time to go out and experience the magic...

Common Tailorbird - unfortunate victim of the cold

I visited Shek Kong Airfield before I had work to do, a trio of Common Rosefinch greeted me. They were quite busy feeding and showed beautifully, there were two males and a single female together. Although an annual winter visitor, it's still a real privilege to see them so well.

Common Rosefinch - male & female

At nearby Lam Tsuen, a flock of Hair-crested Drongos were feeding much lower than usual, at one point I observed one bird coming down to the ground to pick off an insect. A Common Kingfisher was also found along the Lam Tsuen River, a regular species along this stretch.

Hair-crested Drongo

Common Kingfisher

I visited Mai Po again with Hoiling on the 1st, our main target was the Oriental Stork which Hoiling had not seen before. While walking there we observed an aerial battle between an Eastern Marsh Harrier and a Collared Crow, later joined in by a Black Kite! It was quite a show with three birds chasing one another, I was quite pleased to be able to capture a photo with all three birds all in one frame!

Fight between Eastern Marsh Harrier, Collared Crow and a Black Kite

We waited at pond 23 for the Stork when we didn't see it at pond 21. It was very cold to stand in the wind, our hot tea kept us happy. We waited for what felt like 30 minutes in the cold with nothing happening, as we were just about to leave a great commotion of egrets caught our attention and we were suddenly seeing the huge stork in flight! It soon landed on pond 23 for some perched views, although it was quite far away for any decent shots. Also present was an adult Peregrine Falcon, the rather dark face mask indicates this as race peregrinator.

Oriental Stork

Peregrine Falcon - spp. peregrinator

The alteration of birds behaviour was especially apparent at a BBQ site in Sai Kung, where a few birds had been seen feeding out in the open. One of such example was a 1st winter male Mugimaki Flycatcher, actively feeding near the ground and occasionally coming to within a few feet.

Mugimaki Flycatcher - feeding on the ground

A 1st winter male Fujian Niltava was also present, although not showing as well as the Mugimaki, but still offered fairly good looks briefly. Fujian Niltavas are rare winter visitors in Hong Kong, their absolutely stunning plumage makes them joyous birds to look at and a thrill to see every time.

Fujian Niltava - 1st winter male

Around the same area, a 1st winter Orange-headed Thrush foraged out in the open. It was still a little skittish, but you kind of feel it's urgency to find more food and would occasionally even venture out to the benches and tables. Although it kept a safe distance away from me the whole time and later went back into the thickets when a large group of tourists arrived.

Orange-headed Thrush - 1st winter

There were a few "less attractive" present, namely a duo of female Daurian Redstarts, they will occasionally chase the Mugimaki Flycatcher around, probably not as much as it would do in warmer weather. A 1st winter male Siberian Rubythroat also made a brief entrance, but mainly stuck within the thickets and out of view as usual!

Daurian Redstart - female

Siberian Rubythroat - 1st winter male

Other than the winter visitors, a few resident species also made an appearance, other than a lot of Common Tailorbirds and Cinerous Tits, a Mountain Tailorbird also dropped in briefly, feeding fairly low down at eye-levels. A large dove flew by and landed in a tree near me, a quick look revealed it to be an immature Emerald Dove; a usually shy species which stayed long enough for me to grab a half decent record shot.

Mountain Tailorbird

Emerald Dove

Despite the long cold spell, nothing out of the ordinary had appeared so far, was kind of hoping for something like Yellow-bellied Tit...but I should remain hopeful as long as the cold persists!


  1. Great Mountain Tailorbird shot..... and the flycatcher/niltava/OH Thrush are nice to see. The cold snap has made things tough for the birds, for sure.

    1. Cheers John, certainly a good time for photographs.

  2. That kind of “cold snap” would be balmy here! I can well understand, however, that for Hong Kong it is frigid indeed. Great series of images of a wide range of species, accompanied by an excellent narrative.