Monday, 9 April 2018

Change of Wind

Swinhoe's Minivet - one of the migrant getting grounded by the strong northerly wind.

It's all about the wind when you are looking for migrants, during spring when all the birds are moving northwards, south easterly winds with good weather will often result in a lot of migrants flying past Hong Kong without stopping. So, a cold front during these times often result in some good birds being forced to land in order to conserve energy from the strong northerly winds. This was exactly what happened during the weekend.

Friday morning I headed to Tai Po Kau with Long in hope for some migrating flycatchers. The weather forecast predicted a cold front to hit Hong Kong that day, although evidently the cold front had yet to arrive, as it was still fairly warm as we walked up the slope. The rather confiding Crested Serpent Eagle was again present early morning, they are simply great looking raptors to see up close.

Crested Serpent Eagle - becoming a regular at Tai Po Kau

The trails were surprisingly quiet, we barely had a bird wave, breeding season could have something to do with this, as birds often disperse and get into pairs to breed and don't form large flocks as they often do in winter. We got two interesting resident species, including a Lesser Shortwing which showed well (by shortwing standared), and a rather confiding Plain Flowerpecker which is still considered to be a fairly rare species in Hong Kong, although I heard up to three birds throughout Tai Po Kau.

Lesser Shortwing - it just need to have a twig in-between...

Plain Flowerpecker

I was surprised to have found only one Hainan Blue Flycatcher in song, I am sure more will arrive very soon. This is easily one of my favourite breeding species in Hong Kong, and likely the most good looking summer visitor.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

On our way back down I heard a melodic song that was not particularly familiar, I thought it could be an Orange-headed Thrush but sounded quite different. The bird in song soon revealed itself to be a male White-rumped Shama! Although we do have one or two records here and there from time to time, they are not thought to naturally occur in Hong Kong, all records have been treated as escaped so far. This bird looked quite good, with no apparent cage damage, although it is possible that an ex-captive individual to have moulted since it's initial release. They are found in Guangxi as well as Hainan, just a few hundred kilometres from Hong Kong, so it's not impossible for us to get wild individuals, although they are such popular caged birds that ex-captive birds seems to be the most logical explanation for their sporadic appearances.

White-rumped Shama - a bit of a surprise

In the afternoon I picked up Hoiling and headed into San Tin hoping to find Oriental Plovers, the cold front had started to move through by then and we experienced very light showers while the northerly wind picked up. We failed to locate anything interesting except for a pair of Osprey looking for fish around some fishponds which allowed fairly close views. We later stopped at Mai Po for a brief visit hoping for any Blue-tailed Bee-eaters dropping in, but again saw none, although we saw the long staying Greater White-fronted Goose at pond 16/17.


Greater White-fronted Goose

On Saturday, Hoiling and I joined a group of over 30 birders on a boat trip around southern waters in Hong Kong. The cold front advanced and we experienced strong northerly winds with gusts up to force 8 at times! It wasn't the most ideal condition for sea birds as northerly winds actually drive the sea birds away from the coast, naturally we saw very little at sea, only a few Great Crested Terns were worth noting (I even failed to get a record shot!), most of the time we only saw flocks of migrating egrets...

Sea bird watching without the birds...

One of the many flocks of migrating egrets we saw

It was a good call to stop briefly on Po Toi island, obviously the cold front had forced some migrants to ground, a flock of Ashy Minivets flew around and wasn't particularly keen in getting photographed. A single male Swinhoe's Minivet however was particularly showy, allowing prolonged views at fairly close range. This is a very scarce passage migrant in Hong Kong, we often get just a handful each year.

Swinhoe's Minivet - male

They are similar looking to Ashy Minivet, here's an old photo of an Ashy Minivet for comparison. Swinhoe's have greyish helmet while Ashy have black helmet, the white forehead on Swinhoe's also extend further back. Underparts of Swinhoe's is buffish grey while all white in Ashy. Swinhoe's also shows buffish rump while Ashy is uniformly grey from mantle to rump.

Swinhoe's Minivet (above) & Ashy Minivet (below) comparison

Other people saw Japanese Yellow Bunting and Yellow-throated Bunting, I was fortunate enough to connect with a male Yellow-browed Bunting, it showed fairly well briefly before disappearing into the thick undergrowth again. It would have been nice to get a few more Bunting species in a single day, but one is better than none.

Yellow-browed Bunting - male

Hoiling and I visited Mount Davis shortly in the afternoon after hearing upon another Japanese Yellow Bunting seen up there in the morning. The bird was already gone when we got there, we only saw a Crested Goshawk and a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles circling above.

Crested Goshawk

White-bellied Sea Eagles

On Sunday afternoon, my dad and I gave San Tin another shot. The weather was already clearing up with a light easterly breeze. A few dried fishponds were being worked on and the bottom were bulldozed, a practice by the fishpond owners to kill off the bacteria in the mud before filling it up with water again. Oriental Plovers are known to be attracted by those type of ponds. Large flock of Barn Swallow were feeding above a fishpond, there was a single Pale Martin within them. It later perched on a wire with the other swallows.

Pale Martin

We scanned the few dried ponds with little luck at first, only a flock of Little Buntings entertained us. As we walked along we flushed a plain looking long winged wader with buffish neck and no white rump, the bird landed on one of the dried pond ahead of us. We quickly went over there to look but could not relocate the bird.

Little Bunting

We walked over to the next dried pond and suddenly an Oriental Pratincole flew in and landed on the dried pond, and just as it landed I noticed a bird standing a few feet away from it, and what else could it be but the Oriental Plover I was looking for! I was able to walk down the sloping side to a better position for photographs, the bird wasn't particularly shy and on two occasions flew towards us. This was an immature bird with fairly scaly scapulars and tertiaries, as well as pale belly and breast. Hopefully I will get a good looking male next time.

Oriental Pratincole

Oriental Plover - immature

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