Sunday, 7 March 2021

Ryukyu Minivet and Pelagic Birds

Not all rarities are easy to get, some just make you work extra hard for them, and no bird made it more frustrating than the Ryukyu Minivet at Mt Davis. Having failed the first two times (First in the morning, second try in the afternoon) I thought it was just a matter of wrong timing. I caught a quick glimpse on my third try (Whole day!) but it wasn't a satisfying view for this lifer. My forth attempt was a disaster as I got there no more than 5 minutes late. My fifth attempt was extremely frustrating as I knew I couldn't try again the very next day, no surprise that it showed quite well for everyone on the very next day.

On my sixth attempt, I told myself that if I didn't get to see it today, I probably will just give up altogether, as it was not particularly fun to leave home at 6am and drive all the way to Hong Kong Island every morning...Hoiling and I along with a fellow birder were the only three waiting. The bird is known to show up around 7:10 -7:45, every second past the 'prime time' diminishes my hope...It wasn't until just past 8:00am that some birds came through, first some bulbuls, than a female Verditer Flycatcher, at exactly 8:05am a minivet silhouette flew up, and there it was, perched up there preening itself! We got excellent views for a few minutes before it flew up the slope with the bulbuls, I got some fleeting views after that and heard it call a few times before it disappeared behind the trees. Although the encounter was brief, connecting with this rarity after so many attempts felt extra sweet.

Ryukyu Minivet - 1st record in Hong Kong

Of the three species of 'grey' minivets recorded in Hong Kong, Ashy is by far the most common, male have black cap and white forehead, with washed out grey back. Swinhoe's is overall less contrasty, with more white on forehead and a pale rump. Ryukyu Minivet is darkest of the three species, with 'helmet' shape similar to Swinhoe's but with a dark forehead, and darker rump. Although Ryukyu Minivet is a Ryukyu endemic, its been an eruptive year for this species elsewhere including many recorded in Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong, as well as Taiwan. Just one more rarity to keep a look out for from now on!

Three 'Grey' Minivet species in HK - Ashy, Swinhoe's and Ryukyu

Also present at Mt Davis was a Besra, Crested Goshawk seems far more common there, but this Besra caused a bit of a commotion amongst the Hair-crested Drongos.


The Coral Trees at Tai Po Kau are now in full bloom, although unfortunately no Mrs. Gould's Sunbird is present there this year, a few Orange-bellied Leafbirds as well as numerous Fork-tailed Sunbirds were making full use of this nectar source.

Orange-bellied Leafbird - male

Its been a while since I went on any pelagic trip to southern waters of Hong Kong, happy to be able to join the latest one. Weather forecast predicted light south easterly winds and fog, they got the fog bit correct but winds were certainly not light out there! It did get quite choppy at times, making photography that much more difficult. I must once again praise the animal tracking system on my EOS R6, where it was able to track the flying birds even when I couldn't get the bird in the centre of the frame, meaning that instead of firing hundreds of blurry shots, I got over 60% hit rate in suboptimal conditions!

Three species of Skuas are found in Hong Kong waters, the Long-tailed Skua, Arctic and Pomarine Skuas, all three species are regularly seen during passage. We had two Skuas on this trip, both considered quite early in spring. First individual had no visible streamer in the tail, but very broad wings and chunky body, with strong bill, this was likely a 3rd year bird. The other bird was easier to identify in the field, with diagnostic 'spoon' shaped tail streamers, likely an adult still in winter plumage. 

Pomarine Skua - 1st individual, likely 3rd year bird

Pomarine Skua - 2nd individual, likely adult winter plumage

Things were overall quiet, with very little movements of terns still, a few Black-tailed Gulls as well as a Heuglin's Gull were seen, here a 1st year bird and a sub-adult bird.

Black-tailed Gull - 1st year bird

Black-tailed Gull - sub-adult

The main attraction of the day was no doubt Streaked Shearwaters, where we encountered a total of 14 birds in small flocks. This is by far our most common Shearwater species in Hong Kong waters, and one of the largest we can encounter. It is always exciting to see Shearwaters in open waters, as they glide low above the waves. We were lucky to find a few squabbling over food as they all circled in and chased around. Overall a fun trip in midst of travel ban elsewhere.

Streaked Shearwater - squabbling over food, likely a squid or a fish

Streaked Shearwater

Sunday, 28 February 2021

One Out of Two Rarities - Japanese Grosbeak & Ryukyu Minivet

Recent rarities proves difficult to track down, where they have been consistently showing but have a tendency to not show up when I am there. My luck finally improves with the long staying Japanese Grosbeak at Yuen Long Park, on my third visit it finally came in with other Chinese Grosbeaks in the afternoon, and kept in view for over an hour. I first saw it feeding on a flowering Bombax tree, it later flew closer before finally landed on the ground to feed. This is a Hong Kong tick for me, with my only previously encounter in Jiangxi China many years ago.

Japanese Grosbeak

The Chinese Grosbeaks were far friendlier, coming in quite close while they actively feed on the ground. Males sporting their smart plumage with black heads and white wing-tips. I counted at least 7 birds in the area. 

Chinese Grosbeak - male

Chinese Grosbeak - female

The flowering Bombax trees in the area also attracted other birds, including numerous Crested Mynas and Red-whiskered Bulbuls. These trees are a main food source for birds at this time of the year and always provide wonderful photographic opportunities.

Crested Myna - on Bombax tree
Red-whiskered Bulbul - on Bombax tree

Other common birds around the lawns includes Japanese Tit, our 'Great Tit' in Hong Kong had gone through several name changes in the past few years, first changed to Cinereous Tit due to its all grey back, but it is now assigned as Japanese Tit race commixtus. Spotted Dove is our most common dove species in Hong Kong, they are actually quite pretty if you give them a good look. Chinese Blackbirds were numerous around the park.

Japanese Tit (commixtus)

Spotted Dove

Chinese Blackbird

I visited Mount Davis three times for the reported Ryukyu Minivet, a first record for Hong Kong. I have been extremely unlucky with this bird, it have been showing up either in the morning or in the afternoon, I somehow always seems to pick the wrong time to visit. On my third visit I decided to stay for the whole day to maximize my chances, but on this very day it decided to only show up briefly in the morning where I got a quick glimpse through my bins from afar, before it flew off into the distance and not to be seen again all day. While I would count this lifer as I got an identifiable view, I didn't get a satisfactory look at this rarity. Other birds in the area includes a young Crested Goshawk which patrols the area frequently, Emerald Doves are also quite numerous in the area.

Crested Goshawk

Emerald Dove

One of the better bird in the area other than the minivet is a scruffy looking Hume's Leaf Warbler, where it actively feeds around the pavilion. Without hearing it call it will be difficult to determine its identity, luckily for us this is quite a vocal individual. A few Common Tailorbirds also feed amongst the mango tree, often causing much confusion when you are trying to photograph a tiny bird in the thick foliage.

Hume's Leaf Warbler

Common Tailorbird

The closest I got to photographing anything that resembles a minivet there was a Black-winged Cuckooshrike...shame the minivet doesn't always stay with it. Hopefully some better luck next month!

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

Saturday, 20 February 2021

February - Quiet Month So Far...

February have been a tough month for birding for me, after countless birdless outings and failed twitches, I half gave up looking for particular bird and just looked at whatever came my way. Quite a few rarities been spotted by other birders, just not been able to connect with most of them...Grey Bushchats at my local patch stayed on early in the month, but nothing else interesting of note nearby.

Grey Bushchat - female

Tai Po Kau had not been particularly kind to me, only common birds were seen on my previous visit. Rufous-capped Babbler is always a challenge for photographs, as they jump endlessly around the undergrowth. The flowering coral trees attracted plenty of Fork-tailed Sunbirds, but no Mrs. Gould's Sunbird visited the flowers this year, although a few had been seen elsewhere. Asian Stubtail continues to skulk around the undergrowth in most forested sites.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Asian Stubtail

My only visit to Mai Po earlier in the month was not particular note worthy, although it was still a pleasant few hours spent around the reserve. Black-faced Spoonbills rare disappoints, as this one foraged quite close to me.
Black-faced Spoonbill

I had a very poor outing out at Deep Bay hide, despite being a good tide, many birds did not come in, including most of the gulls and ducks that I was interested about...Great Cormorants were by far the most numerous out there, taking up most of the roosting space. Only common wader species were seen.

Only a handful of waders with thousands of Cormorants in the back...

Deep Bay

Common Redshank

Wu Kau Tang was a little more interesting, with a high count of over 40 Common Rosefinches! Here is a photo of 21 Rosefinches in a single tree, where another flock was out of sight to my back. 

Common Rosefinch - 21 birds here!

Common Rosefinch - male

A Crested Goshawk seen at close range at Sai Kung was about the only interesting thing I saw at Yan Yee Road, no luck with any other birds there.

Crested Goshawk

A very elusive Japanese Grosbeak had been seen sparingly at Yuen Long Park, it was a no show for me with only a single Yellow-billed Grosbeak came in. Asian Koels are now in full song, truly a sign that spring is here.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak - female

Asian Koel

I was lucky to find two Chestnut-flanked White-eyes at Tai Lam, where they were feeding with a flock of Swinhoe's White-eyes, making this my second sighting this year. A fairly showy Pygmy Cupwing was seen singing in the undergrowth, its been a while since I've gotten a good view of this species.

Chestnut-flanked White-eye

Pygmy Cupwing

San Tin produced a Buff-bellied Pipit, although it was quite skittish, whereas a Red-throated Pipit posed nicely for a photo, now moulting into breeding plumage. I found two Whiskered Tern amongst the flock of Black-headed Gulls, which seems to be a regular sight now around the fishponds of Tai Sang Wai and San Tin.

Buff-bellied Pipit

Red-throated Pipit

Whiskered Tern with Black-headed Gulls

Whiskered Tern

Black-headed Gull

Black-faced Spoonbills are often found around the fishponds at San Tin, you can often get very close views from the car, a single Eurasian Spoonbill was spotted.

Black-faced Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

My last visit to Shing Mun was not particularly birdy, even the Slaty-backed Forktail was no show, it was mostly just common birds along the forest track. The only notable bird was the long staying Alstrom's Warbler which FINALLY showed for me, after hearing it several times, it finally gave decent views for me, although I did miss the perfect shot, this record shot is what I have to live with for now.

Huet's Fulvetta

Alstrom's Warbler