Tuesday 25 August 2015

A hot autumn morning at Tai Po Kau

It's supposed to be Autumn though it feels anything but! These kind of weather leave you two choices if you want to go outside, either go very early or very late. I chose to be early this morning, arriving at Tai Po Kau right around 7:15am. It wasn't cool but it was bearable. On the way up I immediately encountered two active Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, both hopped right to the edge of the path.

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

A few Rufous-capped Babbler joined in, one of them with it's tail feathers completely missing! I wonder what happened to it, but no worries, it will grow back very soon. At the mean time it will resembles a Wren-babbler. The hills were filled fruiting Sterculia lanceolata, a type of tree that is commonly seen in Hong Kong, the birds seems to love it and were very active around those trees. Sivler-eared Mesias in particular were finding these fruits irresistible.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Silver-eared Mesia feeding on Sterculia lanceolata

I went up the Red Walk, things were pretty quiet until I got to another fruiting Sterculia lanceolata, a flock of White-eyes surrounds the tree. I notice an odd bird in the flock and got my bins on it, the bird was pretty pale overall but had some wing markings and when it raised it wings I saw that it had yellow rump! A Yellow-rumped Flycatcher it was! We get most of this species as Autumn migrants, and most of them are either female or juvenile. The one I saw was a typical 1st winter male. However, I could not relocate it therefore no photograph this time.

Things got very quiet, it wasn't until I got to picnic area 2 that I heard a Pygmy Wren-babbler calling, I played a recording and waited a few minutes, and sure enough one popped right out from the undergrowth! These are very responsive birds, and are a lot of fun to watch. It remained in the area for a few minutes before hopping back into the undergrowth.

Pygmy Wren-babbler

The rest of the way was pretty quiet with little action. Mountain Bulbuls kept me accompanied along the way, there were quite a lot of them today, on some days you will have none at all. Migration season seems to be at full swing and we should get more flycatchers very soon!

Mountain Bulbul

Sunday 23 August 2015

Short visit to Mai Po

I had a few hours to spare late Sunday afternoon, so I dropped by Mai Po shortly. Today was another extremely hot day, with temperature going up to 37degrees in some places, I did not fancy walking far! Therefore I decided to bird mainly in the car.

One of the pond have now been transformed into a Cattail reed bed. It's not the most common form of reed we get in Hong Kong, and I am not sure who planted them there, but they sure have attracted some birds. Among them were a few Little Grebes, their breeding season is now over, their chicks are now big enough to look after themselves, but you still see the juvenile hanging about with adults. This particular juvenile was adult size but still have the juvenile head patterns.

Little Grebe adult

Little Grebe juvenile

Chinese Pond Herons are slowly moulting back into their modest looking non-breeding plumage, you see many in-between birds at the moment, this one still have some rufous coloured feathers on its head.

Chinese Pond Heron

Perhaps the most interesting birds there were a total of three Yellow Bitterns, two were seen flying about, while I found one perched on the Cattail's stalk by the edge of the pond, trying to blend in with it's surrounding. Bitterns do that by raising their head up high while straightening their necks, their streaky necks then acts as camouflage. If it wasn't for the two feet sticking out from the reeds I could have easily missed it. A funny looking bird indeed, you can just about imagine it muttering "you can't see me, you can't see me..." under it's breath.

Yellow Bittern

Himalayan Swiftlet!

An afternoon free finally! Though it still feels like mid-summer, autumn migration  have started early this year with many migrants already recorded by various birders. I thought it would be good to check out Long Valley after a long summer without much birding. A Wryneck was supposedly seen yesterday, so I thought I should try my luck out.

A binocular-less Long Long joined me at Sheung Shui mid-afternoon, he came straight from work! We felt lazy and took a taxi. The sun was fierce, scorching everything in it's path; us included. It was comparatively quieter then Spring or Winter, not much have arrived yet. The usual residents were here, but they seems more skittish as usual, maybe a summer without much visitors have left them unfamiliar with birders.

Black-winged Stit and Wood Sandpipers

We glimpsed a single Painted Snipe in a densely planted water chestnut field, they are difficult to find this time of the year when everything is so overgrown. A fair numbers of Pintailed Snipe were flushed when we walked the footpaths, you can never really quite sneak up on these...The paddy-fields have attracted hundreds of Tree Sparrows, it's probably still too early for Buntings.

Tree Sparrows

A few Sooty-headed Bulbul hung out on a wire, a bird I have not seen all summer. This is the season for Dragonflies, large numbers of Globe Skimmers are present at Long Valley, they are in turn a great staple diet for birds like Black Drongos.

Globe Skimmers

Just when me and Long Long were about to leave, I spotted a single swift that flew low above a shallow pond. I first thought it was a House Swift, but close inspection reveal the bird have a greyish rump instead of white! Surprise~ A Swiftlet no doubt! I have looked for Swiftlets numerous times in huge flocks of swifts and usually fails, so to be able to identify a Swiftlet without having to scan through hundreds of swifts feels luxurious. The only Swiftlet species that have been recorded in Hong Kong so far is the Himalayan, however recent records of Germain's Swiftlet in Taiwan and China suggest it is also a probable candidate. I did suspect this one as Germain's due to the paler rump, but having looked at other photographs available I really can't tell whether this is a Pale Himalayan or a dark Germain's....So, at the mean time I will go for the safer option and call this a Himalayan, which is still the most likely species in our region. Either way, a great Hong Kong tick for me and Long Long. What a way to start off the Autumn birding season!

Himalayan Swiftlet

Friday 14 August 2015

Autumn Migration - First sign of hope!

After a long long pause of birding, there is finally hope! I have been quite busy with work and weather's been way too hot to do any serious walking. I have been wanted to go watch the terns but simply couldn't find time and I try to avoid the weekend crowds. I saw a few Black-naped Terns from Sai Kung pier two weeks ago though, they seems to be doing well this year. There's also been a Lesser Frigate bird around Sai Kung pier lately, but again the crowds really put me off.

Yesterday, I wasn't really birding but actually out working at Pak Sha O in Sai Kung, mainly for a pre-trip with Dickson Wong, a spider expert and nature guide. He will be helping us out for our "A Living Space" book launch, guiding a nature tour around Pak Sha O.

Heading into Pak Sha O we encountered a bird wave, mainly consists of Cinerous Tits and a few White-eyes. I immediately recognize a familiar flash of rufous brown, it could only be an Asian Paradise Flycatcher. The bird only showed briefly and was too quick for me to snap any photographs, but I was very happy to see it, like an oasis in a desert! This will be one of the first bunch of autumn migrants, I usually don't see them until late August or early September. Here is a photo from a few years back, taken in September.

This can only mean more migrants will follow soon, I better dust my binoculars ready...

Asian Paradise Flycatcher