Sunday 27 December 2015

Japanese Cormorant - take 2

Having felt quite frustrated and displeased about the view of the pair of Japanese Cormorant at Shek O, my Father and I gave it another try on Sunday afternoon. It was cloudy but fortunately the rain held off. Upon arrival, I quickly glimpsed a flying Cormorant low over the sea, a quick burst of shots revealed it was indeed one of the target bird!

Japanese Cormorant - inflight shot

Ng Fan Chau - in Chinese it means "island in 5 pieces"

We quickly headed towards the headland and setup our scope, within seconds I had a single bird in view! Right where it was supposed to be. It was soon joined by it's mate, drying off it's wings on the rocks. Getting great scope views, we finally got to tick off all the key features that separate this species with the common Great Cormorant. Other then the preferred marine habitat, Japanese Cormorant can be safely identified by their more white underparts and throats during non-breeding season, the lower mandible is also yellow in colour with the lores, while Great's will be more greyish blue. Most important feature of all will be the pattern of facial skin and gap line, Japanese shows more angular skin with gap line extending backwards making a "V" shape. Great Cormorants have a more rounded edge to the back of the facial skin. All these features points towards the pair being young Japanese Cormorants. They were quite active, constantly flapping their wings to dry them off and hopped about the rocks. The pair certainly reminds me of penguins as they hopped along the rocks clumsily, their contrasting white bellies and dark back suggested the same.

Japanese Cormorants - the playful pair

Satisfied with the views, we headed back. A female Blue Rock Thrush sitting on top of a house ended our day. I thought the colours made quite an interesting composition.

Blue Rock Thrush - female

Saturday 26 December 2015

From South East to North West

Upon getting news from Koel Ko that the pair of Japanese Cormorants were still at Shek O, my Father and I got up before dawn to get there at first light to try our luck. Arriving at Tai Tau Chau, we walked up to the headland where we can see the small island Ng Fan Chau, supposedly where the Cormorants have been staying. However, when we got there and scanned with our scope we can surely confirm no Cormorants were insight. My guess was that the pair went behind the island out of view.

Ng Fan Chau - the Cormorants were reported on the far left.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, a single Cormorant flew out from the rocks out towards the sea and then flew back behind the island! My father having studied about the identification for this particular species of Cormorant the night before stated that the wings were situated much further back then normal Cormorants, which I agree upon seeing that bird in flight. Since he needed to go off to work soon after, we couldn't afford to wait for the pair to reappear on the correct side of the island, so drastic measures were taken and we headed off to Cape D'Aguilar where we can view the island from the other side...Problem being the other side is a whooping 1.4km away from the island! But upon arrival we soon got the pair in "view" on our scope, two tiny little specs just sitting on the rocks. So, fate accepted...there was our view of this pair of rarity. Black Kits however were much more common here.

Japanese Cormorant - a spec from Cape D'Aguilar...

Black Kite

Cape D'Aguilar being at the most South Easterly point on Hong Kong Island, we drove all the way back to New Territories where I dropped my Dad at Kam Sheung Road Station then headed over to Mai Po. A single Black-necked Grebe was recorded the day before, so I thought it was worth a shot. Upon arriving at the supposed location, the bird was nowhere to be seen. Only Little Grebes swam and dived in the surrounding ponds. Seeing the initial location of the Grebe was actually quite unsuitable habitat, it was concluded that the Grebe was probably just passing through...

Seeing that all hope was lost...I decided to give Shek Kong Catchment a try. All was quiet while I was there, however I found a tree where a flock of Hair-crested Drongos were stationing, hawking insects from the perches. This species is not exactly rare, but I have never had the chance to observe them closely, as this is a species that requires decent views for you to appreciate it's most iconic feature; it's hair!

Hair-crested Drongo - appreciating the fine hair-style!

One individual perched on a lower branch, I am guessing by the slightly greyish belly that it's an immature bird? But it's got nearly all of the adult's features already, including the hair-crest. It preened and scratched all the while, giving wonderful views and kept me well entertained...

Hair-crested Drongo - a young bird? Fine looking none the less.

Upon heading back up to the catchment, I glimpsed a male Grey Bush Chat flicking it's tail not too far off. My photos from my last visit really didn't do this species justice, and I felt these were much better. Their smart looking brows contrast very nicely with their black mask. Soon after I got another male, surely two of the three long staying Grey Bush Chats that have been around the area for quite some time.

Grey Bush Chat - much better photos this time

Quite a few maples have turned yellow, but I am guessing it's simply not cold enough for the leafs to turn bright red. It's really been a very warm Christmas, and that reflects on the fact that I soon heard a few calls of the Large Hawk Cuckoo? Although there are possibilities that it was a Black-throated Laughingthrush mimicking a cuckoo call, but it sounded quite genuine for me. Would have fooled me that Spring is upon us! Finally, a Grey-chinned Minivet to end my boxing day.

Winter Maple Trees.

Grey-chinned Minivet - a substitution to the Christmas Robin!

Saturday 19 December 2015

Birds Appreciation at Mai Po

After a morning of work, headed over to Mai Po for a short visit. Wasn't really aiming for any birds so it was just a casual stroll along the entrance roads and paths. I was lucky to get a hovering Pied Kingfisher straight away upon arrival, it was at a fairly reasonable distance and hovered around the same pond for a minute or so. Classic Pied King pose!

Pied Kingfisher - hovering poses

A pair of Magpies again announced their presence by their cheerful laughs. One stopped on top a wooden pillar. As I drove into the reserve, I noticed a wader sitting on the bank next to the road, a Common Sandpiper was stretching. I stopped the car directly beside the bird, it stayed long enough for me to get my camera up and took a few closeup full-framed shots! Cars are very useful when it comes to birdwatching, as birds seems to be less afraid of these huge metal cases, making them good mobile hides.

Eurasian Magpie

Common Sandpiper - a full frame stretch!

Along the road leading to the AFCD warden's post, a single female Chinese Grosbeak was spotted. Very unusual to see a single instead of a flock or at least a pair. A Common Kingfisher perched nearby, the sun was right on it and what a beauty! Their colours really pops out when the sun hits the feather at the right angle, it still amazes me till this day that we get to see such exquisite beauty so often. Later in the day I took a photo of the same Kingfisher at the same pond, but with different lighting. A comparison here to show how big a difference the right lighting makes.

Chinese Grosbeak - a lonely looking female

Common Kingfisher - same bird, different lighting.

At the same pond, a Little Grebe dived around for fish, popping up every ten to twenty seconds. The lighting was brilliant on this crisp winter day that I couldn't resist to take a few shots, able to observe and appreciate the fine details on this bird.

Little Grebe - time to appreciate the water droplets!

Taiga Flycatchers (Red-throated Flycatcher as I used to know it as) were everywhere, I saw a total of four individuals today. None of them came down to the lower perches but one at least came close enough for a good photo. We very rarely get males in breeding plumage (with red throats), more often we get females or males in winter plumage. You can always tell one is around simply by their diagnostic call, a low "chrrr" that it will repeat again and again, the sound is often accompanied with classic tail flicks.

Taiga Flycatcher - only good shot I managed...

Waited around for the Booted Warbler, but the bird never showed, hopefully it had not moved on...A common Yellow-browed Warbler took it's place in the reed bed.

Yellow-browed Warbler - unusual backdrop for this species

Finally, a single Tufted Duck on one of the fish pond, looks like a young drake. You more often see a flock of Tufties instead of singles, it was looking so very lonely. But, being quite close to shore it also allowed some closeup views and shots to be taken on this calm day.

Tufted Duck - the lonesome young drake

No incredible species like the Eurasian Black Vulture Peter Chan had the day before at Stanley...But, common birds should still be appreciated. And I will like to thank them for giving me such a pleasant afternoon at Mai Po.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Same Old Story at Long Valley

Long Valley have long been a favourite birding spot for me, and rarities had indeed popped up every so often there. This year was a little different however, with limited species count throughout the autumn migration and relatively less rare finds. There just wasn't an exciting vibe to the place at the moment! After getting news of a Smew showing at Mai Po, I didn't fancy the crowd so much, so I thought I would try Long Valley for a more quiet afternoon. I was not disappointed in the quiet section, as there were only a handful of birders and photographers there, compared to sometimes over 100 people! However, while it was quiet in terms of people, it was equally quiet in the bird department. I first got a few ducks, a flock of Teals with a few drakes. Amongst them was a single female Garganey.

Teal - drake

Garganey - female

For the next hour or so, I didn't see anything remotely interesting. Mainly common birds. Long-tailed Shrikes, hundreds of Tree Sparrows and Munias feeding on the ripening paddies (White-rumped & Scaly-breasted), Siberian Stonechats, and other usual waders like Avocets, Stilts, Snipes and Wood Sandpipers...I took some photos none the less, still nice to appreciate these birds and try to get some decent photos.

Long-tailed Shrike

Scaly-breasted Munia - huge flocks feeding on the paddies

Siberian Stonechat - note the stink bug underneath!

Pied Avocet

At the Chinese Arrowroot pond, I counted at least 14 Painted Snipes amongst the thick vegetation. All very sneaky as usual. It's always funny to see them shuffling around the plants to hide from my vision, they will slowly observe your movement and start to sneak off to somewhere with more cover, if you move forward they will move again...But, they will ALWAYS have their eyes on you!

Greater Painted Snipe - really blending in well

Finally, at a paddy field near the far end towards the river, there were a few Buntings around. A Little Bunting which I didn't manage to photograph, and a very tamed Yellow-breasted Bunting that perched for a good five minutes in full view for everyone to look at. Bunting numbers had not look good at Long Valley this year, but with increase of paddy fields you would expect numbers to be higher, my other theory is that having so many different fields to go to the birds are less concentrated to one particular paddy as it was before...This is only a possible guess, and one that I hope is the case, decrease in species and numbers is never a good sign. With such heavy trapping still continuing up in China, the pressure to protect these Buntings in their wintering ground is even more pressing.

Paddy with a few Buntings

Yellow-breasted Bunting - one Bunting is better then none

Booted Warbler - rebooted!

The Booted Warbler have been showing well lately at the same patch of reed bed I last saw it around two weeks ago, likely to be wintering here this season! Hoi Ling and I arrived at the spot at around 8am, only a handful of birders were there. Strong easterly winds were blowing pretty hard and the reeds were all swaying back and forth in the wind, which made spotting such a small bird that much more challenging! After an hour of waiting and being blown about by the winds, we changed our spot to a more protected part of the reed bed where wind was less strong, sure enough the warbler was near the edge of that patch! It showed very well for a minute or so before dropping back down into the tall reeds, not before I got some decent record shots. A very clean looking warbler, the Booted have a reed warbler like appearance but with behaviour more closely resembling a Phylloscopus warbler.

Booted Warbler - a rare warbler species in Hong Kong

The reed bed where the Booted Warbler lurks.

Other birds around Mai Po on the same day were not so much exciting, but still adding together for a pleasant outing. An increase of dabbling ducks were obvious, a handsome but lonesome drake Northern Pintail at the duck pond, along with some Northern Shovelers. Wigeons were also in good numbers all around the place.

Drake Northern Pintail with Northern Shovelers, also Coot and Moorhens.

Eurasian Wigeon

On our way to the bird hide a Long-tailed Shrike was in the way sitting on a wooden post.

Long-tailed Shrike

Bird hide #1 was packed when we arrived, apparently a Greater Spotted Eagle had caused quite a stir as it feeds on a duck carcass. This majestic eagle species is a regular winter visitor in Hong Kong, especially common in Deep Bay area. It ate until it was quite full and after some preening and wiping off scraps from it's talons, it took off into the distance soon afterwards with the sound of shutters bursting away in the hide.

Greater Spotted Eagle

Seeing that the show was over we headed over to bird hide #6, where an Imperial Eagle was also feeding at the far side of the pond, another regular winter visitor to Deep Bay and one of the largest Eagle species we have in Hong Kong, it soon took off and I managed a few distance shots. Other birds of prey patrolling the sky were a few Black Kites, also feeding on some scraps of duck on one of the island. An Eastern Marsh Harrier went past a few times, but remained a bit far for any decent shots.

Imperial Eagle

Black Kite

Eastern Marsh Harrier

At the scrape, a single lonesome Eurasian Spoonbill stood in front of the hide, not following the flock of Black-faced Spoonbills. There weren't a lot of waders around, a few Greenshanks and Spotted Redshanks were close enough that was remotely worthy for a photo.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Spotted Redshank and Common Greenshanks

On the way out we saw a few Daurian Redstarts, this bold female was one that gave close views. These lively birds do add a bit of colour into the birding trip, always there to show off their reddish rumps as you follow them on the trail.

Daurian Redstart - female

Finally, back out at the car park, a very tamed Asian Brown Flycatcher, allowing very close views. This individual had been ringed, but I can't quite make out the whole sequence of numbers.

Asian Brown Flycatcher - ringed individual