Saturday 28 February 2015

Birdwatching 101

It's always a joy to share your interest with someone who have never experienced it, it reminds you of the time you first began your hobby and everything was so exciting and new to you! To be able to show this whole new world for someone is a true delight.

Today, Long and I gave a tour of Long Valley with Victor; a friend of ours, the classic tour of Long Valley. This must be one of the most perfect place to start with, as the birds are relatively easy to see, and the wide range of species is also a good introduction to the birds of Hong Kong.

We started with the basics, a Spotted Dove right in front of us. Black-collard Starlings were everywhere, White Wagtails gave a good introduction of the idea of sub-species, with two ocularis in the flock. Siberian Stonechats are conspicuous and hard to miss. Smart looking Long-tailed Shrikes provided some fairly good views. Koels were calling everywhere, reminding us that Spring is truly amongst us. Black-winged Stilts, Avocets and Wood Sandpipers were all good introductions to waders in Hong Kong.

Spotted Dove

White Wagtail (ocularis)

Long-tailed Shrike

For the more uncommonly seen birds, we got some very shy Painted Snipes today, well hidden within the thick vegetation. A Citrine Wagtail made an appearance, a bird that should be leaving Hong Kong soon and back to breeding grounds up North. A flock of Garganey gave good text book comparison between male and females dimorphism. A Pied Kingfisher gave a good fly-by. Red-throated Flycatcher showed briefly. Common Buzzard and Kestrel circled above us.

Citrine Wagtail


Even better birds showed up, in form of Bull-headed Shrike which showed quite well, a Japanese Sparrowhawk that flew low and flushed all the sandpipers and stilts, Ruddy-breasted Crake and Eastern Water Rail showed well, the later especially so. Long and Victor managed to spot the male Bluethroat briefly. We ended the day with a more common crake species the White-breasted Waterhen.

Bull-headed Shrike

Eastern Water Rail

White-breasted Waterhen

A total of 64 species is really quite good as an introduction.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Chinese New Year!

A planned trip to Yinping Shan near Shenzhen was suddenly cancelled, because this morning when I was about to head out I found that my Return Permit was missing! Such rotten luck...

Anyway, as it was still very early in the morning, I decided to head out to Tai Po Kau. It was very foggy and humid, morning mist covers the hills. The walk up was rather quiet, only a flock of Striated Yuhinas on a treetop was worth mentioning.

Got to the public toilet and waited for a bit. A few Rufous-capped Babbler foraged nearby, making their distinctive Do-do-do-do-do calls. Right next to the toilet, a pair of Tristram's Buntings was present, however only the female decided to make an appearance, it perched for a short while, allowing some photographs to be taken before disappearing again into the thick undergrowth.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Tristram's Bunting

Waited around and saw very little, so I decided to take a loop around the red walk. Again, nothing  particularly exciting, I heard the Bay Woodpecker call at a distance but it never came closer. Bird waves of various common birds were encountered, but nothing really interesting. One wave contained at least 6 Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, which provided some good photographing opportunities, these are by far the best photographs I have taken of this species.

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers are medium sized babblers that skulks in the undergrowth, they are normally well hidden within covers. Good views are always well relished, while this group of particularly cooperative. Their beautiful markings on their chest, as well as their smart looking mask and eyebrows definitely makes them one of the best looking babbler species in Hong Kong.

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Nothing much were seen on the way down, only a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Robin and Japanese Thrush were worth noting.

Back down to the AFCD warden quarters where the popular coral tree stood, a Blue-winged Leafbird made an appearance shortly, feeding on the nectar. This particular bird have been around Tai Po Kau for over two years. A likely ex-captive bird, the Blue-winged Leafbird is currently placed in Category F. It is smaller then the naturally occurring Orange-bellied Leafbird, its nearest natural range is Southern Yunan. However, this was still a beautiful bird to see none the less.

Blue-winged Leafbird

A pair of Black-throated Laughingthrush made an appearance on the way down to the car park. This Laughingthrush species is not uncommon in Hong Kong and can be found in many wooded areas. Easily seen or heard, but not easy to photograph as they stay well hidden in thick undergrowth a lot of the time. Their white cheeks gives them away in the shades.

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Back at the car park, a flock of Scarlet Minivet made an appearance. They were kind enough to come down to the lower branches. A Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike was also seen along with them.

Scarlet Minivet (male)

Scarlet Minivet (female)

Chinese New Year is always a busy time to visit friends and relatives! Wishing everyone a prosperous year of the goat and happy birding! 

Saturday 14 February 2015

Valentine's Day Birding

Parks are romantic, or so they are in movies. Parks are also good for birds, so they seem in real life. Spent most of today in different parks in Hong Kong, experiencing some of Hong Kong's finest city bird species.

Started my day off at Fa Sam Hang, a hill side village in Shatin, main reason for visiting was for a Verditer Flycatcher that's been frequenting the area. However, waited for over 2 hours with little luck. Saw only common birds including this Magpie Robin and two Crested Serpent Eagle. An interesting species to note were two Little Buntings.

Magpie Robin (female)

Crested Serpent Eagle

Decided to move on to Central Kwai Chung Park, a park right next to the industrial estates of Kwai Chung. This place was made known few years back by the local speciality; Emerald Doves. There are some nice trees in the park which manages to hold quite a few species.

Looking towards Kwai Chung industrial estates

As soon as I entered the park entrance I saw a pair of Scarlet Minivets, a male and a female. They gave great views, but not so great for photographing.

Scarlet Minivets male & female

Further up in the park I encountered common species such as Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Japanese White-eyes, Yellow-browed Warblers, Pallas's Leaf Warblers...a few Grey-backed Thrush were seen but in very dense foliage, a good species was an Ashy Drongo amongst a few bulbuls. This is a regular winter species in Hong Kong, not especially rare but can be quite local.

Ashy Drongo

Yet even further up the hill towards Castle Peak Road, a little bird wave with a bunch of White-eyes brought along a female Black-naped Monarch! A very pleasant surprise indeed to see this wintering species in such urban landscape. Just as the Monarch flew away, a great shadow flew past me and landed right in front of me on a branch. A Crested Goshawk. It was way too close to me, so I couldn't manage a full body shot, but to see such magnificent bird so up close is always a treat.

Black-naped Monarch

Crested Goshawk

Near to the children's playground, a small bird hopped in the low hedges. I looked through my bins and saw a reddish cocked up tail, and what else could it be but a Rufous-tailed Robin. Another pleasant little surprise, this species are more regularly seen in forested areas like Tai Po Kau, I think this was the first time I have seen one in a park. I did saw two Emerald Doves, but they were quite shy and didn't manage to get a shot. Other birds of interest were a pair of Black-throated Laughingthrush, a flock of Silver-eared Mesia and an Asian Stubtail Warbler; which I heard only.

Rufous-tailed Robin

The afternoon I spent a few hours taking a few kids from the Project Care Small Group Home to visit Woh Chai Shan. The main objective was to show them that urban parks such as this can hold quite a few birds too. We wanted to show them birds such as Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush and Brown-chested Jungle-flycatcher; which we saw both with great success, the Flycatcher was particularly cooperative today and perched for nearly 10 minutes allowing amazing scope views. They also enjoyed a bit of free time running about the grassy parkland at the top of the hill.

Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush

Brown-chested Jungle-flycatcher

Saturday 7 February 2015

Identifying Pipits

Decided to go somewhere a bit different this morning and headed to Ng Tung Chai, a valley near Lam Tsuen. The area was quite popular a few years back, but have since been a bit quieter and gotten less attention. However, this place have turned up many rarities in the past and certainly worth the steep hike up. Habitat is typical of Hong Kong's woodlands, but the steep valley makes it something different to Tai Po Kau.

Picked up Long Long at 6am and started the walk at 7am, walk up was pleasant but birds were not particularly cooperative, mostly hid behind dense foliage, most identification were made with sounds.

Overlooking the valley

Steep walk up

We encountered a few bird waves including the usual Silver-eared Mesia, Chestnut Bulbul, Rufous-capped Babbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Japanese White-eye and Scarlet Minivet. Two large flocks of Striated Yuhinas made things interesting, allowing good prolonged views. A beautiful Emerald Dove popped in for a visit, but never stay long enough for a photograph, as of most case with this species.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Chestnut Bulbul

Yellow-cheeked Tit

Japanese White-eye

Striated Yuhina

We reached the waterfalls around 9:30am and enjoyed a cup of tea with the view. Bird nest ferns are very common here, not that I have noticed them being too common else where in Hong Kong, I guess the humidity from the waterfall makes the environment perfect for them.

Lower falls

Middle falls

Bird Nest Ferns

On the way down we encountered a bird wave, I noticed a bird pecking away at a branch, I look through my bins and noticed the spots on it's belly and a short tail. A Speckled Piculet! It was however gone after 5 seconds and we could not locate it again. This species have been recorded here in the past and I am glad we can still find them here.

A short trip past Shek Kong generated nothing except numerous common species, Pallas's Warbler being one of them.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler

After lunch we visited Tam Kon Chau, the fishponds outside Mai Po. There, we found a flock of Pipits feeding along some burnt pond banks. Most of them were Red-throated, I scanned the group for Buff-bellied Pipits and sure enough found a few within the flock. They were all a little skittish but we managed a few shots before they all flew off.

Red-throated Pipit

Buff-bellied Pipit

It's a lot easier to identify them when you can see them side by side. You notice the mantle of the Buff-bellied Pipit have much less markings and the head is a lot paler, lacking that rufous tint. In the field, look for more dull-coloured individuals within Red-throated Pipits. Also present was a Ocularis White Wagtail.

Ocularis White Wagtail