Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Fun With Waders

Flocks of waders, up to 6 species in this photo.

Visited Mai Po with Hoiling and my parents during the easter break. April is one of the best time of the year to look for migrating waders, you may easily see up to 30 species out at Deep Bay in a single day. We started fairly early, we chose to head out to the boardwalks straight away. I managed to spot an Asian Barred Owlet on the way, they have been breeding in Mai Po regularly and can often be seen perched by the access road early morning.

Asian Barred Owlet

We got to the new hide at around 9am, flocks of small waders gathered around the algae covered mudflats, such as Curlew Sandpipers, many were moulting into their beautiful breeding plumage. Red-necked Stints were also in good numbers.

Curlew Sandpiper

Red-necked Stint with Curlew Sandpiper

Large congregation of Red-necked Stints

More Red-necked Stints flew in as the tide rose higher, many individuals were moulting into breeding plumage with reddish necks and throat. This is also a good time of the year for Little Stints, so I scanned for any possible birds...I saw one bird that stood out from the rest, much brighter looking. On closer inspection orange edged tertiaries and greater coverts were quite prominent. Structurally it was also longer necked and not as hunched back as most Red-necked Stints.

Red-necked Stint - assuming breeding plumage

Little Stint - assuming breeding plumage

Things got more complicated when I saw this bird, hints of breeding plumage is showing on tertiaries and upper scapulars, but not much hints plumage wise...It had a very clean throat and greyish cheeks. Tibia looks long and knee not as thick as expect on Red-necked. The bill was not particularly thin or downward curved, but it is known that bill shaped can be overlapped between the two species. It does look longer necked and rather dainty with a more rounded shoulder...So, is it a Little? I think so, although I probably won't be quite confident enough to call it straight away in the field.

Little Stint - a rather difficult individual...

Things can get really complicated if you have pale throated Red-necked Stints with only a small hint of breeding plumage coming through on the tertiaries and scapulars...such as this individual below. Although the "hard" shoulder is quite apparent in this individual, it is also quite thick necked, the plumage especially scapulars and tertiaries are scarily similar, the most obvious difference is the reddish tones on it's cheeks and neck which the other bird lacks.

Red-necked Stint - one of those paler throats individuals

Another feature that seems to be reliable although not particularly practical infield will be the legs projection in flight. Little Stints have longer legs and it shows during flight, as their toes often extends beyond their tail. This subtle difference is likely too difficult for the naked eye to pick out due to their speedy flight, so a photo would definitely help in this situation.

Little Stint in flight (bottom right)

Little Stint (middle bird)

Back to some easier waders...A few Mongolian Plovers were around but none of which were willing to come close to the hide. Tereks were seen in smaller numbers while Common Redshanks were abundant. Eurasian Curlews were as prominent as always, towering over all the other waders.

Mongolian Plover - breeding plumage

Terek Sandpiper & Common Redshank

Eurasian Curlew

Many large gulls were still present, mostly Heuglin's Gulls, but there were a few more obvious Mongolians in the flock, although I spent little time scanning through them as the waders kept me busy! a macronyx Eastern Yellow Wagtails strolled around the front of the hide allowing decent views.

Heuglin's Gull

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - race macronyx

Once the tide got up to 1.9m we retreated back to the middle hide, here we were greeted by mainly Black-tailed Godwits, within the Godwits we scanned for other species, I was able to locate two Nordmann's Greenshanks within them, their black and white scapulars were very visible. This endangered species has a very small global population, likely no more then 1,300 birds in the wild.

Nordmann's Greenshank - the only two birds we saw

A few Asiatic Dowitchers were also present, their straight black bills were easy to pick out from the Godwits. A few Bar-tailed Godwits in their lovely brick red breeding plumage were also present.

Asiatic Dowitcher

Bar-tailed Godwit - lovely brick red

A few Great Knots swam quite close to the hide as the tide rose higher. This medium sized wader is now listed as endangered like many other waders seen on the day, they are threatened by large areas of habitat destruction, reclamation along their migration routes and trapping.

Great Knot in comparison with Bar-tailed Godwit

Great Knots with Black-tailed Godwits

Great Knot with Marsh Sandpiper and Common Redshank

Here's a Great Knot next to a Marsh Sandpiper for size comparison, they are very chunky looking birds with powerful muscles, no wonder they are capable migrating long distances from Siberia all the way to Australia.

Great Knot with Marsh Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper

Another endangered species threatened by habitat loss; the Far Eastern Curlew, only one was spotted, it's buffish thighs and vents are often a good hint when not seen in flight.

Far Eastern Curlew

Gull-billed Terns numbers had increased in the last two weeks, most individuals wearing their 'face mask', only a few were still in process of moulting into their breeding plumage.

Gull-billed Tern - breeding plumage

Gull-billed Tern - assuming breeding plumage

A helicopter came by and flushed most of the waders up and away, so we scanned the remaining birds and found two Eurasian Spoonbills within the Black-faced Spoonbills. An Osprey also flew past with a large fish in it's talons.

Eurasian Spooonbill

Osprey with prey

Finally, the Black-tailed Godwits also flew off as the tide rose even higher, until the Pied Avocets were all that remained. My mum have not visited Mai Po for a long time, it was likely many years since she last witnessed a rising tide out at Deep Bay, and she said she noticed a significant drop in bird numbers. As we all know, mum is always right, and regrettably I must say she was absolutely right. Whereas there would have been up to a few thousands Pied Avocets back in the day, there were a mere few hundreds of them. Whereas waders once covered nearly all of the mudflats, there are now more empty spaces as ever...

Black-tailed Godwit

Pied Avocet

The truth is, you look over towards Shenzhen and you see skyscrapers being built month after month, their skyline extending as far left and right as your eyes can see. It's not difficult to link the steep declines to rapid urban developments on the other side of Deep Bay, along with other factors that are threatening waders elsewhere on a global scale, we may further lose a few more species as we've lost the Dalmatian Pelicans and Common Shelducks if we are not careful, both once regular or even common winter visitors to Deep Bay. It was a pleasant day out, but we couldn't help but feel a slightly sad undertone to our observations.

The rapid urbanisation of Shenzhen happening right before our eyes...

Later that evening we decided to head into Tai Sang Wai to again look for the Savanna Nightjar. We were greeted by a few Oriental Pratincoles yet again feeding in the middle of the road, but after some intense searching we failed to locate any Nightjars...

Oriental Pratincole

As we gave up on Tai Sang Wai we decided to give another location near Ma Tso Lung a try, I've only been there during the day but had always thought it looked good for Nightjars, and how I am glad to be right as we saw a Savanna Nightjar flew by right above us when we arrived. We later spotted a Nightjar perched on top of a lamp post, which I managed a few photos before it flew off, the night was not wasted after all!

Savanna Nightjar - certainly an interesting perch to sing from...

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