Monday 28 September 2015

3rd Autumn Lifer - Grey-backed Shrike

News of a Grey-backed Shrike were circling for a few days, the location remained a mystery to me until yesterday. Since it seems to be the finder's decision to conceal the location of the bird, I will not disclose the site details here. With natural range from India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, SW China and Vietnam, this bird is way off course, no doubt if accepted this could be Hong Kong's first Grey-backed Shrike! This was a bird I did not want to miss.

I arrived at the site at around 7:15am, only one other birder was there. I scanned the area and quickly located the bird perched out in the open on some metal scaffoldings. It looks superficially like a Long-tailed Shrike when only the front can be seen, but reveals it's true identity when it turn it's back on you. The shorter and dull coloured tail and grey mantle gives it away, it's also smaller in size overall. Views were not great, as the bird remained quite far away and we didn't dare to creep any closer incase we spook the bird. The bird remained in sight for 10 minutes before being chased off by a neighbouring Long-tailed Shrike, obviously unhappy about the recent vagrant.

Grey-backed Shrike - first views of this lifer

We waited around for a bit longer as more birders arrived, all of them felt frustrated when they heard that the bird just left 30 minutes ago. David Chan also arrived later along with his friend Tom, and the wait went on and on...At the mean time, we started looking for other birds in the area. A flock of Chestnut-collard Yuhina flew-by, an extremely distant Dollarbird kept us entertained as we all tried to describe it's location to others. A few Crested Goshawk patrolled the valley constantly. Finally, another raptor dropped by in form of a Crested Serpent Eagle. I did mi-ID it as an Oriental Honey Buzzard on the day, so apologies for anyone who followed my careless mistake.


Crested Goshawk

Crested Serpent Eagle

While we were well entertained by the raptors, the Shrike re-appeared finally at 10:40am. This time giving everyone a great view while calling on a telegraph pole. I first thought it was just a Long-tailed Shrike as the bird only have it's front towards us, but when it turned it's back towards us it was apparent what bird we were looking at. The bird later flew up to an overhead wire and perched for quite some time, allowing everyone to appreciate it. Feeling happy that everyone have gotten a good look, we left the scene for lunch. Here's a comparison shot of a Long-tailed Shrike for reference, taken in Long Valley on the same day.

Grey-backed Shrike - Our star of the day

Long-tailed Shrike - comparison shot

After lunch we went past Shek Kong Airfield Road, however the site was pretty quiet, where we only managed a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike. A Pallas's Squirrel at close range kept us entertained. This is the only squirrel species we have in Hong Kong, however was likely an introduced species that have found it's niche in Hong Kong. Nothing much were spotted there and I only managed a shot of a close White Wagtail.

Pallas's Squirrel

White Wagtail (Leucopsis)

We went to Long Valley afterwards, hoping to find some buntings or bitterns. We were disappointed that we didn't find much, only a few Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler were worthy of note, but they were easily flushed and never gave any proper view. Yellow Wagtails and Siberian Stonechat's numbers have increased over the last week. Common and Pin-tailed Snipes both gave quite good views today, the Painted Snipes were again hiding at their usual pond but remained very elusive.

Common Snipe

Pin-tailed Snipe

Wood Sandpiper

Little Ringed Plover

Finally, an Asian Brown Flycatcher near Ho Sheung Heung to end our day.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Saturday 26 September 2015

Forest Birds Research - Wutong Shan

A short day trip to Wutong Shan(梧桐山)was planned with Captain, David Chan was able to join us this time. This is one of the closest patch of forest to Hong Kong, directly across the border of Sha Tau Kok. Wutong Shan is the tallest mountain in Shenzhen, standing at 944m above sea-level. Being so close to the border suggest many shared species between Hong Kong, and is no doubt the closest "stepping stone" for any dispersing birds. Please be warned that all photographs taken on the day were record shots only...may I apologise for the poor images in advance, but lights were poor and birds were quite far away in general.

Location of Wutong Shan in relation to Hong Kong

The day started early, I woke up at 5:30am and got on the first mini bus to the nearest MTR station. I met Captain and David in Sheung Shui at 7:15am. From there we took the MTR to Lo Wu and crossed the customs from there, got directly into a taxi and we got off at Wutong Shan at around 8am. Many weekend tourists and hikers were already there, but the crowds were not as bad as expected. Birding was quite slow to begin with, common species were heard and not many seen as it is the case for many forest reserves in China...First "good" bird was a Buff-breasted Flowerpecker spotted by David! We also got a flock of Silver-eared Mesias, but were soon gone before we got any proper look.

Buff-breasted Flowerpecker

The walk up was gruelling and made extremely uncomfortable by the humid and stuffy conditions, the scorching sun did not help. We managed to pull ourselves up to a store situated at around 450m mark. There, we encountered two separate flocks of Greater-necklaced Laughingthrushes, which according to Captain were quite common in this forest reserve.

Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush

A little further up at a little reservoir we encountered our first proper bird wave, with Blue-winged Minlas, Rufous-capped Babbler, Mountain Tailorbirds, Chestnut Bulbuls and Japanese White-eyes. A Crested Serpent Eagle circled nearby.

Blue-winged Minla

Crested Serpent Eagle

Things slowed down again, by noon we managed to get up to around 600m where we sat down for a spot of lunch. A bottle of cold coca-cola was greatly satisfying! After some rest, we started to head back down and surely we felt the change in weather, a light breeze blew in clouds, and that somehow woke the forest up. We first got a few Grey Treepies, though they did not give any good views. Then we encountered a large flock of Chestnut-collard Yuhinas, another typical South China forest species. With recent breeding records in Hong Kong, I can foresee them becoming a more abundant resident very soon.

Chestnut-collard Yuhina

Back at the little reservoir, we encountered yet another bird wave, this time a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher caught the eyes of Captain, the dark breast and duller brown mantle and tail suggest this as Japanese instead of Asian. Another small bird caught my eye amongst the flock of birds, and what else could it be but a Speckled Piculet! A very pleasant surprise indeed! It went away as quickly as it came, so I only managed some very poor "recognisable" shots before it disappeared. Finally, two Arctic warblers foraging along with the White-eyes and White-bellied Epornis were the last migrants we saw.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Speckled Piculet

Arctic Warbler

The weather continued to change as we descend, a sudden downpour forced us to take shelter at a little store by the hillside. Getting soaked through seems to have become the trend of our forest birds research...

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Back to Nature

It's been way too busy for me to do any proper birding, finally a day off for me to get back to nature. I certainly have been in the city life mode for a bit too long and felt slightly rusty coming back to the country side, but it felt good and energising!

I have missed quite a lot of the autumn migration this year, and I haven't been to Po Toi Island even once. This afternoon I took my chance at Long Valley, weather was not optimal, with very heavy rain in the morning and a little drizzle when I arrived. Long Valley was overall very quiet, with little bird activities. No Buntings of any sort as yet, but I got my first Zitting Cisticola of the season.

Zitting Cisticola

Other birds I managed to take photographs of were Common Myna at the car park, a Plain Prinia and one of the many Scaly-breasted Munias. I did saw a single Painted Snipe which only flew by, a Brown Shrike was chased away by a Long-tailed Shrike before I could pick up my camera.

Common Myna

Plain Prinia

Scaly-breasted Munia

I gave Mai Po a try after the not so successful hour at Long Valley. It started off slow, I kept seeing Koels and Masked Laughingthrushes...a lot of Intermediate Egrets at Bird Hide 1, they kept fighting each other so I managed to take a few action shots, this is one of the better ones.

Intermediate Egret

Just outside the bird hide an accipiter flew ahead, it had a bird in it's claws. I could not locate it however, I presume it was a Besra considered the smaller size. Going towards the "flycatcher area" I found only an Asian Brown Flycatcher, I was hoping for a Paradise Flycatcher of some sort but this is better then none.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

I later ventured into a less walked part of Mai Po, not much were there, a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike foraged with the bulbuls, there were more Koels, Black Drongos and Masked Laughingthrushes....A pair of distant Collard Crow and an even more distant Pied Kingfisher were around. The only interesting bird to note were three Oriental Reed Warbler. These huge warblers (nearly same size as Chinese Bulbuls!) are not uncommon at this time of the year, commonly seen around suitable habitats. One gave fairly decent views, though slightly on the far side.

Collard Crow

Pied Kingfisher

Oriental Reed Warbler

Thursday 3 September 2015

Rainy day at Tai Po Kau

3rd of September is a new public holiday for us in Hong Kong, I made good use of the morning to do some birding at Tai Po Kau with my Dad. Work's been very busy, so I started early on the day so I can leave the afternoon for work. It was drizzling when we arrived, but we decided to go ahead anyway.

Thing with Tai Po Kau is that you never know which mix of birds you may get, it is different everytime you visit. The number of birds can also vary on different visits, some days will be brilliant with everything you can wish for, on other days it can be so bad that you wished you hadn't have came in the first place. Today was pretty much the latter, the first two hours was practically birdless, with the exception of a Black-throated Laughingthrush that made a brief appearance on our way up. A few Velvet-fronted Nuthatch were seen, too.

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

We went past halfway of the Red walk and barely saw a bird, I was already cursing our rotten luck under my breath as we walked. It wasn't until I heard some movement and calls of some Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers that I stopped and waited, soon a few birds came in, Grey-chinned Minivets, Red-billed Leiothrix, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Minla, Rufous-capped Babbler and a very distant Black-winged Cuckooshrike that flew through. Conditions were not favourable for photography, it was very dark and drizzled every so often while we were there.

Red-billed Leiothrix

Blue-winged Minla

A few Huet's Fulvettas (Formerly Grey-cheeked Fulvetta) were also amongst the feeding flock; a quite recent coloniser into Hong Kong's forests, their origin have been much debated, some regards them most likely originated from escaped caged birds, but some think there are possibilities that they arrived on their own. Either way, this common South China forest species was most likely a former indigenous resident in Hong Kong, and no doubt have been very successful in breeding here in recent years, where they have became one of the dominant species at Tai Po Kau.

Huet's Fulvetta

We heard a Speckled Piculet drummed in a distant, but only once. A few Great Barbet called nearby, a short burst of play-back have a pair came quite close. These canopy dwellers are so difficult to see well, and it took us a long while before we finally spotted one, perched near the top of a tall tree. Views weren't great, but it's the best I've had of this species in Hong Kong in a long time. A little further up, we heard the Bay Woodpecker called a few times, but it never came close even with playback.

Great Barbet

Little else was seen the rest of the way, a small mixed flock near the exit of the trails consists of common birds, with the exception of an Eastern-crowned Warbler, our only migrant of the day. It was way high up in the tree, so the photographs are not even worth posting. On the way out, a Chinese Bulbul perched on the railings, it posed well for a photograph. Sometimes you find the greatest comfort in getting a good view of a common bird after such a tough outing.

Chinese Bulbul