Wednesday 29 April 2015

Fairy Tales - Fairy Pitta

What bird is so beautiful that ornithologist named the bird "Fairy"? Pittas are always a birder favourite, which ever species, whatever colour, Pittas have this charm that attracts birders to be crazy about them. Their skulking nature are notorious amongst birds and are some of the most difficult to see birds in the wild. There are two species of Pittas in Hong Kong, the Fairy Pitta which is a rare passage migrant, and the Blue-winged Pitta (I have seen 1 a few years ago) which is an even rarer passage migrant. Both species are extremely difficult to see and you need luck more then anything if you want to see one in Hong Kong.

Took a day off and decided to give Tai Po Kau a try. The day started pretty warm, and things went well to begin with! A Chestnut-winged Cuckoo finally decided to show itself to me! Though it was quite far away, I was pleased I at least got a half decent record shot of this species.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

The hills were filled with the songs of the Hainan Blue Flycatcher, I heard and saw at least 8 individuals. A nesting pair attracted a huge crowd and I simply did not want to add more stress to those poor birds so I avoided the scene, there were plenty of other singing males for me to photograph so I didn't see the reason why EVERYONE should crowd to that pair. This male I saw sang particularly loud, which seems to have attracted a female, she seems quite interested and stayed with the male.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher

A Black Bulbul surprised me, I don't recall seeing many in Spring. This one was alone, judging by the black head it's still a young bird. The high pitched whistles of the Mountain Bulbul revealed a few birds.

Black Bulbul

Mountain Bulbul

I decided to give the Brown Walk a try, I don't recall myself having walked the whole way round, and since I got quite a lot of the time, I don't see the reason not to. Most birders are intimidated by the length of the walk, but in real life it wasn't really too bad, especially that the trail was not that steep at all. The trail elevation is a lot higher then the Red and Blue walk, which means it goes through a range of habitats including some young secondaries, bamboo and scrubland. A Mountain Tailorbird and a few Silver-eared Mesia made an appearance near the bamboos.

Mountain Tailorbird

Further on, a Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo called breifly but didn't show. A few Eye-browed Thrush were very skittish and flew away immediately after I got my bins on them. A pair of Yellow-cheeked Tits caring for their young nearby, the male came particularly close and gave some great photography opportunity! I have yet to take any good photo of this species so I am very happy to get these.

Yellow-cheeked Tit

Near the mid-point of the Brown Walk, I saw a bird that flew from the undergrowth and landed only 3m away up slope. I looked through my bins and saw a flash of blue. I immediately thought it COULD be a Pitta, but I just wasn't sure. I waited and played the call of the Fairy Pitta a few times, hoping that if it was a Pitta it maybe interested with the sound. As I scanned the slope, I suddenly saw a silhouette of blue and red. BINGO! A Fairy Pitta was standing just behind a few branches! My heart nearly stopped! The bird was clearly very intrigued by the recording, and stayed in view for whole three minutes! I admired the bird in awe, all the while muttering "Oh My God" quietly. When it finally hopped up the slope and dissapeared, my hands were shaking and my heart was pumping. I JUST SAW A PITTA! This will be another lifer for me and a new tick in Hong Kong!

Fairy Pitta

I was smiling the rest of my way down, little else were seen except a few Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers.

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

After lunch I decided to hit Mai Po access road and see if there were any migrating terns. At the car park I saw a nest box with a few White-shouldered Starlings. This species is now a regular breeder and utilises nest boxes and electrical fuse boxes alike. A few Little Egrets were tending for their chicks at the egretry.

White-shouldered Starling

Little Egret

Out at the fishpond, a dozen of Whiskered Tern made an appearance. There weren't as many terns as I hoped but I was glad to see them again this year. It's like seeing old friends after a year! There were a few juvies with the adults.

Whiskered Tern

With the Fairy Pitta that up my spring migration season another notch, I don't think I can ask for more without sounding greedy. It just teaches you that you must be thankful when you see a rare bird, because it's not always you who finds the bird, it's the bird who finds you.

Monday 27 April 2015

Po Toi - more migrating action

With migration season in full swing, numerous of exciting birds have been spotted in Hong Kong! Including our first ever Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Mai Po, a male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher as well as a few Bramblings on Po Toi last week, and Chinese Goshawks around the place. ALL of which I MISSED!

Finally a day back on Po Toi for me, today we took the kids from Project Care Small Group Home to Po Toi, many of them were visiting this little island for the first time. It was nice to bring them out to get some fresh air, especially to see the bird migration for themselves was enough to get the kids excited!

An hour after departure from Aberdeen pier have us landed on Po Toi Island, with strong Easterly winds its promising weather for birds. It started off slowly, but things picked up when we got to the helicopter pad. A few Black Drongo made an appearance, giving the kids good scope view. These are clearly summer visitor to Hong Kong, a few pairs do breed on Po Toi annually. Just then, an Indian Cuckoo made it's distinctive 4 syllables call of "one more bottle" and gave a distant fly-by view, which gave me a great opportunity to tell the kids some fun facts about this species, including how it's actually a parasitic brooder that targets Black Drongos!

Black Drongo

Indian Cuckoo

A Red Turtle Dove flew into view, stopping on a large rock and gave great views for everyone. Another passage migrant that is passing through Po Toi, we usually get this species in open country around New Territories.

Red Turtle Dove

Not too far off near the public toilet, a pair of Grey-streaked Flycatcher gave prolonged views. Another classic passage migrant on Po Toi, they are one of the commoner species of flycatcher we get during migration. They displayed their characteristic hawking technique for everyone to enjoy.

Grey-streaked Flycatcher

I spotted a warbler on a nearby tree, impression was of an Arctic, but a closer look at the mandible have me puzzled. Most Arctic Warblers have a dark tip on the lower mandible, while this one doesn't. I thought it could be something else but couldn't quite make up my mind. I later asked Kwok Jai about his thoughts on this warbler and he suggested Arctic as well, so I guess I will settle with the answer that it's an odd Arctic.

Arctic Warbler

Got news from others that a Malayan Night Heron was spotted near the sister's cafe. While the kids went ahead I stayed behind for 15 minutes to look for the bird. I was however disappointed to not see the bird. Though I have seen this bird in Taiwan before, this rare species eludes me in Hong Kong. I quickly rejoined the group at the "peninsular trail", where we got good views of a pair of very distant Blue Rock Thrush, the kids were very excited about the bright colours on the male. On our way back we got news that the Night Heron was back out while we were away and was stationed for a good 40 minutes...damn it. Here's a photo from my trip to Taipei few years back, truly a magnificent looking creature.

Malayan Night Heron (Taiwan 2013)

We were on time for the 4 o'clock boat back to Aberdeen. On our way back we got a flock of migrating Whimbrels which stopped on a rocky island to rest. Later near Stanley, an unsual flock of migrating Black-winged Stilt, which flew around and around for quite some time. We don't usually see them out at sea, so it just proves anything can turn up anywhere during migration.

Whimbrel in a distant

Black-winged Stilt on migration

Sunday 19 April 2015

Forest Birds Research - Yinpingshan Forest Park

This is my second research trip to China with Captain, this time we went to Yinpingshan Forest Park 銀瓶山森林公園 (40km from Hong Kong), a site close to the large town of Zhang Mu Tou, the forest park is another 8km from the town. We met up on Saturday night and took a train to Zhang Mu Tou, which only took 20 minutes. We found a hotel immediately after we got there, at around 260RMB/night the room was very luxurious and very comfortable. There was even a 24hour KFC right next to the hotel, just tells you how much mainland have advanced in these two decades...

We started early, a quick local KFC breakfast (soya milk and fried Chinese cruller!) got us ready for the hike later. We found a taxi with ease and was at the entrance gate of Yinpingshan Forest Park in no time. There aren't many trails to choose from like many other forest parks in China, but we decided to take a trail call Guan Yin Zuo Lian Gu Dao (觀音坐蓮古道), which is a trail that runs through the lower forest of the park. Habitats here are secondary forest, with original forests likely deforested many decades ago, these forests seems to be maturing well at the age of 30 to 40 years old.

Entrance Gate

Site Map

We headed towards the trail, immediately seeing a couple of Cinerous Tits, few of them were young fledglings, likely the first brood this season. A Chestnut-winged Cuckoo called nearby, I imitated it's two-note whistles and quickly got a response, though the bird flew close it never came out of the cover, as is the case of many encounters with this species.

Cinerous Tit juv.

A few hundred meters up, we encountered a very small bird wave, we were first attracted by the unexpected call of a few Silver-eared Mesia, though very common in Hong Kong, they have always been thought to be escaped exotics as their natural range lies further west. They have never been recorded at Yinpingshan, and seeing them here makes me wonder whether there are possibilities of wild populations existing in Guangdong. Though there are also the possibility that these have been decedents of escapees as well, more research must be done to get a clearer picture on this matter!

While we looked for the Mesias, I saw a tiny bird flew up and perched on a branch close by, I picked up my bins to find myself staring at a Speckled Piculet! Another real surprise! A recent coloniser into Hong Kong's forests, this species likely expanded it's range from forests like these. We saw and heard a total of at least 6 individuals on the trip, indicating that this species is doing fairly well here.

Speckled Piculet

A Besra also flew into sight, making ariel displays in the area.


As we continued, we found the forest trail here quite productive, we got birds including Chestnut Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Emerald Dove, Grey Treepie, Grey-throated Minivet, Scarlet Minivet, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Pygmy Wren Babbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush, White-bellied Epornis and Japanese White-eye. Another surprise was a Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo, it was calling nearby, with a little taping it flew right towards us but didn't stop and flew on. A Slaty-legged Crake was heard as well, but it didn't showed.

Over looking the forested valleys

Chestnut Bulbul

Scarlet Minivet

At the end of the trail, we reached a stream, where numerous Green Cascade Frogs were found calling and mating, they are far less common in Hong Kong and I found them a welcoming sight! At the same stream, Captain spotted a Slaty-backed Forktail at a distance, another bird that is rare in Hong Kong but remains quite abundant in mainland China.

Green Cascade Frog

Slaty-backed Forktail

We hit the main road and decided to follow it down back to the entrance gate. On the way down, we encountered a small flock of Chestnut-collared Yuhinas, foraging together along the road. They gave great eye-level views and one particular bird caught a stick insect and gave us quite a show! As you can see, it took the bird quite a while to swallow the stick insect, but it certainly looked satisfied! A likely breeder here, Chestnut-collared Yuhinas have long been recognised as a winter visitor in Hong Kong, but with colonies at such close proximity to Hong Kong it seems likely they will become a resident species very soon. I have only recently realise about their split from Striated Yuhinas.

Chestnut-collared Yuhina

Just incase you wonder how people in China build trails up a mountain...we saw many Mules along the main road, looks like they are using them to carry rocks and bricks up the mountain. Tough life.


All in all, a very successful research trip, especially on finding a good number of Silver-eared Mesias here. Also good to know the numbers of Speckled Piculets seems to be stable and likely increasing, which means we will likely see more of this species in Hong Kong's forest very soon. An interesting observation though, I don't recall seeing many Crested Mynas on both my research trips, a bird which I immediately saw when we crossed the boarder. Maybe we should be more grateful about these common birds, we do take many of these species for granted...

A bird we take for granted - Crested Myna