Thursday, 15 July 2021

Brown Noddy - A Mid-Summer Twitch

Brown Noddy - 3rd record of Hong Kong

News of a Brown Noddy around Wong Mau Chau travelled fast, I wasn't able to go on the first few days after I received the news, but luckily the bird seems pretty stable and stayed on in the area. Brown Noddy is a rare vagrant in Hong Kong with only two previous records, naturally everyone wanted to see it. With help of friends we were able to arrange a boat to head out towards Wong Mau Chau to search for the Brown Noddy. We arrived at Wong Shek Pier just past 7am, and were soon searching for the bird out at sea.

Along the way we saw plenty of Bridled and Black-naped Terns, both regular breeding species in Hong Kong. I have been a bit lazy of late and haven't been to look at the breeding tern colonies, so I was quite happy to see them, although I didn't see any Roseate Terns.

Bridled Tern

Black-naped Tern

It took us half an hour before I spotted a bird perched on a piece of polystyrene foam, we went closer to investigate and sure enough it was the Brown Noddy, just sitting there preening and sunning itself! 

Brown Noddy - Resting on man-made 'island'

We had fantastic views of it sitting there before it flew off to feed with the other terns near Wong Mau Chau, where we continued to have awesome flight views at close quarters. It was an awesome experience to see it fly right past our boat, sometimes within an arm's length. This is the first ever 'twitchable' Brown Noddy in Hong kong, therefore not surprising it is also the most documented, there were three other boats out that same morning. 

Brown Noddy - flying past twitchers

I must once again praise the animal tracking system of Canon EOS R6, I fitted it with my EF 100-400mm lens and it delivered pretty good results, this setup was perfect for this occasion, as the bird occasionally came in so close that I had to pull my lens back to 100mm to get the entire bird in view. This setup was also light enough that my arms weren't hurting even after nearly two hours of continuous shooting. This was definitely top bird this summer so far, hopefully we will also get a Black Noddy sometime soon...

Brown Noddy - Top bird of summer!

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Snakes! Mid-summer Herping

I often spend more time outdoor at night during the summer months than I do during the day, and lately it has been ALL about snakes. Although none of the species I encountered were particularly rare, it is still thrilling to find them in the wild. One of those regularly encountered species is the Common Wolf Snake, they really like to climb into crevices and quite often make their way into people's home by accident. They are beautifully marked and really quite docile most of the time, although they do leave a rather unpleasant smell when handled.

Common Wolf Snake

By far the most commonly encountered snake species at night is surely the Bamboo Pit Viper, it doesn't make them any less exciting, as they really are quite gorgeous. Despite their notoriety for being very aggressive, most individuals I encounter rarely strike.

Bamboo Pit Viper

Although the title of 'most common snake species' in Hong Kong likely goes to the Common Blind Snake, a tiny species that resembles more like earth worms. They are terribly difficult to get a good photo of simply because they rarely stay still, plus their scales are very reflective. 

Common Blind Snake

A few days of heavy rain seems to have washed a lot of wildlife out, this Checkered Keelback was found dead in the buffalo fields at Pui O, there were no obvious external injuries to it, I am guessing it got washed down stream in the storm, although they are strong swimmers I guess they can still drown in bad weather?

Deceased Checkered Keelback

We had a very decent casual outing to Tai Mo Shan with help of James Kwok and friends, where we saw six species of snake in one night, including Greater Green Snake, Anderson's Stream Snake and sadly a dead Burmese Pythons. The other three species includes this wonderful Futsing Wolf Snake which I spotted, being only my second Futsing, they are supposed to be fairly uncommon. 

Futsing Wolf Snake

We found two Mountain Water Snakes, this species is commonly found along forested streams and well vegetated pools, you can often find many of them along the stream especially after heavy rain. 

Mountain Water Snake

Finally, the Striped Stream Snake, which is a photo tick for me as I've only previously seen one very briefly. Very glad to find this one to finally get some decent photos of. 

Striped Stream Snake

The heavy rain last week also helped with bringing out more amphibians, here are some regularly seen species, such as the Ornate Pygmy Frog, Paddy Frog, Chinese Bullfrog and Asiatic Painted Frog. 

Ornate Pygmy Frog

Paddy Frog

Chinese Bullfrog

Asiatic Painted Frog

June and July is not really the best time for moths, but occasionally we still find spectacular species such as the Actias ningpoana, or the Chinese Moon Moth.

Actias ningpoana

Finally, had another lucky night at Nam Chung where we ended our evening with a rather confiding Masked Palm Civet feeding on the fruits of Ficus variegata.

Masked Palm Civet

Monday, 21 June 2021

Summer Variety Show - Birds & Wildlife

 Summer is the quiet season for birds, but it is rarely completely birdless, at Mai Po at least 5 Oriental Pratincoles were present on the scrape, at least 2 of them were young juveniles, which got me wondering whether they are breeding in Hong Kong? Or perhaps these are from somewhere nearby? I missed the Little Curlew that was present for a few days, which was likely the most interesting bird of June.

Oriental Pratincole

A few waders remained, including a few Great Knots, Common Greenshanks as well as numerous Black-tailed Godwits. The Greater Painted Snipes on the scrape were very active, with a few showing well in front of hide 3.

Great Knots & Common Greenshanks

Greater Painted Snipe - female

While there are no confirmed breeding records of Intermediate Egrets in Hong Kong, we do see them throughout the summer months, so perhaps they are breeding somewhere and we are just looking at the wrong places. Yellow Bitterns on the other hand is most definitely a breeder in Hong Kong, where they frequent places like Mai Po with a good coverage of reed beds. 

Intermediate Egret

Yellow Bittern

I explored the area above Nam Chung with much 'success', including many breeding species, Grey Treepies are very common in the area, as well as numerous Hainan Blue Flycatchers in song, Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers are slightly scarcer in the summer months, I was delighted to find quite a few present. Whereas Chestnut-winged Cuckoo continues to be one of the better birds of summer. I encountered quite a lot of Indochinese Green Magpies lately, although none of them were photographable.

Grey Treepie

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - male

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

I also covered the Disneyland Resort over a weekend, although nothing particularly interesting was noted, Sooty-headed Bulbuls, Crested Mynas and Greater Coucals were amongst some of the local resident species that frequents the area.

Sooty-headed Bulbul - juvenile

Crested Myna

Greater Coucal

One of the more interesting 'wildlife' in the area are the increasingly common Blue-crested Lizards, this attractive reptile likely ended up in Hong Kong by hitchhiking on exotic plants. The largest feral population is currently around Disneyland, with several other reported elsewhere. Whether this species have any significant impact on the local wildlife remains to be seen, but its bigger size likely means it will out compete with local lizard species such as the Changeable Lizard.

Blue-crested Lizard

Changeable Lizard

The much needed rain likely revived the breeding of many frogs in Hong Kong, here are a few I encountered on casual outings throughout the month, including Butler's Pygmy Frog, Marbled Pygmy Frog, Hong Kong Whipping Frog and Short-legged Toad.

Butler's Pygmy Frog

Marbled Pygmy Frog

Hong Kong Whipping Frog

Short-legged Toad

I've encountered quite a few snakes of late, but none were quite as friendly and photogenic as this White-spotted Slug Snake, surely one of the most docile snake species in Hong Kong.

White-spotted Slug Snake

I have not been finding many new spider species of late, but my latest addition is perhaps one that's been on the top of my wanted list the longest, the highly unusual Asianopis zhuanghaoyuni, it is related to the Ogre-faced Spider which they share similar appearance. Unfortunately I did not have the proper gear to photograph it's unusual face on that very day, perhaps next time!

Asianopis zhuanghaoyuni

Late last month was also the peak for the firefly Curtos fulvocapitalis, it was quite the spectacle to witness hundreds dancing around the tall grass and abandoned farmland. There are not that many good habitat left for fireflies in Hong Kong, with increasing light pollution these remnant farmland and freshwater wetlands are important breeding grounds for these wonderful creatures.

Curtos fulvocapitalis