Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Northern New Territories - Quail and More

I spared a little time at San Tin the other day, and as my car drove along the track, I noticed a brownish bird walking along the side, coming in and out of the vegetation. I suspected it to be one of the two species of Buttonquails (Turnix) that we often get on passage in Hong Kong. I stopped my car and waited for the bird to come into view, and a few minutes later it instead revealed itself to be a Japanese Quail.

Japanese Quail - a close encounter

This is a species I see almost annually, although most of the time I only catch a fleeting view of this usually shy species. This individual however was not as shy as most I've encountered before, and ventured out into the open for excellent views. The car didn't seem to bother it that much, therefore I stayed inside the car to take these photographs.

Japanese Quail - walking tall...

Although an overall common species with a fairly wide distribution, the Japanese Quail is now listed as Near Threatened, as is suspected to be undergoing population decline due to habitat loss and hunting. They are a great bird to see in the wild and an absolute joy to get good photographs of, I enjoyed good views of this individual until it got darker and I left it to continue feeding along the track.

Japanese Quail - a hungry migrant busy feeding

Zitting Cisticolas are common winter visitor in Hong Kong, many have been arriving and I saw up to five or six on a single track at San Tin. While Black-browed Reed Warblers are also becoming more common, they are not difficult to see at San Tin. There were also plenty of Oriental Reed Warblers around, although none of them were particularly photogenic.

Zitting Cisticola

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Oriental Reed Warbler

Siberian Stonechats can now be seen everywhere at San Tin, being a common winter visitor in Hong Kong, they will remain here until spring next year. Some movement of Red-collared Doves was also noted, with numbers increasing from previous month.

Siberian Stonechat

Red-collared Dove

Hundreds of Whiskered Terns had turned up at San Tin, amongst them were a few White-winged Terns, they were not in their smart summer plumage, but you can still pick them out with their 'headphone' like head pattern. They are usually more common in spring, and a scarce autumn migrant.

Whiskered Tern & White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern - juvenile

Whiskered Tern - juvenile inflight

The Red-backed Shrike was still present but became more shy. I saw little else of interest except for this White-headed Munia feeding amongst a flock of White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias. This is obviously an ex-captive individual, they are fairly popular caged birds and often seen in the bird market, we often get a few of them mixed in the Munias each year. A few Yellow-breasted Buntings had also arrived at the paddies, although remained pretty shy, I could only managed photos of one perched up in the tree after being flushed.

White-headed Munia - ex-captive

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Finally, a Black-winged Kite at Tai Sang Wai provided excellent views and photo opportunity. In Hong Kong we only get them as scarce passage migrant and winter visitor, therefore it is a real treat to see one up close. It only stayed briefly before flying off into the distant. With all the crazy stuff happening in Hong Kong, it is a real breather and luxury to be able to do some birding in the countryside.

Black-winged Kite


  1. Hello Matt: Just wanted to let you know that I think of you often as I watch the turmoil in Hong Kong and I hope you are safe and well. I have very fond memories indeed of my visit to Hong Kong, and I hope that freedom and democracy will continue there. With my very best wishes, David

    1. Thank you David, tough times here indeed but I believe Hong Kongers are resilient enough to make it through this! You are welcome to come back anytime you wish, I remember our very nice day out at Tai Po Kau!