Friday, 20 March 2020

Mid March : Winter to Spring

March is around the time of the year when you truly get a sense of transition from winter to spring, you still get the odd winter visitor lingering on, but you also start getting some movements of birds and spring migrants arriving. A flock of over 20 Eurasian Siskins were reported earlier in the month at Shek Kong Catchment. This is not a rarity in Hong Kong but they are not exactly common either, we only get small numbers of these each year, so it is always worth a look when they are around. They were not difficult to find feeding on the Horsetail Trees, but they were just too far away for me to get any decent photo of.

Eurasian Siskin - male

Other than birds, adult Hong Kong Newts had finished with their breeding season and now is the best time to find the newly hatched tadpoles, unlike frog tadpoles, newt tadpoles develop arms and legs fairly early on and also have external gills, they are surely some of the cutest creatures you can find in the streams, each of them measuring at just 2cm long. Once the tadpoles are big enough they will lose their gills and start a terrestrial stage of their lifecycle, before maturing enough to go back into the water to breed.

Hong Kong Newt - tadpole

We get most Golden-headed Cisticolas during winter, a few do linger till spring but there have been no breeding record of this species in Hong Kong that I know of. An adult moulting into breeding plumage had been spotted lately at Tam Kon Chau, finding it wasn't particularly difficult, you just follow the wheezy song and quite likely it will be perched on the top of a blade of grass. It is not in full breeding plumage yet, but its tail is shorter and a bright tuft had started replacing the dark cap of winter plumage.

Golden-headed Cisticola - moulting into breeding plumage

Nearby another Cisticola also made the wheezy call, a 'tailless' individual hopped out into the open nearby, its neck wasn't as dark as I would expect on a Golden-headed Cisticola, but its call was certainly unmistakable. This one is likely just moulting out of the non-breeding plumage and the bright cap will soon be showing.

Golden-headed Cisticola - moulting

A Zitting Cisticola was nearby to provide a good comparison of the two species, with paler supercilium and overall brighter plumage.

Zitting Cisticola

Both species of Prinias are now actively singing out in the open, these usually shy birds can become quite bold in breeding season, perching up on trees or wires to sing, often at very close range.

Plain Prinia

Yellow-bellied Prinia

At Tai Sang Wai, a few Black-faced Buntings were feeding by the roadside, while Red-throated Pipits are now transforming into their breeding plumage with pinkish face and throat.

Black-faced Bunting - male

Red-throated Pipit - breeding plumage

Waterbirds also undergo dramatic transformation during this time, such as the usually dull looking Eastern Cattle Egret which moult into a handsome creature with orange head and chest. The Great Cormorant as well develops white neck which contrasts nicely with its dark plumage.

Eastern Cattle Egret - breeding plumage

Great Cormorant - breeding plumage

Barn Swallows are now returning in good numbers, while flocks of Oriental Pratincoles arrived once again to take a break on various dried fish ponds on their northward migration.

Barn Swallow

Oriental Pratincole

Spring is also a good time to start night walks again, with frogs and snakes becoming more and more active. This is also a good time to look for nocturnal birds, Savanna Nightjars are now singing again, Collared Scops Owls are heard regularly in the evening. Hoiling and I went out searching for Brown Fish Owl one night and succeeded in finding one, these large owls often inhabits quiet reservoirs and streams, although widespread in Hong Kong they are not always easy to find, so seeing one is always a joyful experience.

Brown Fish Owl - always happy to see

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