Monday 29 February 2016

Long Valley - day out with church group

Was invited by Dr. Choi to lead a tour to Long Valley for a group from Shatin Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, happily accepted the offer. Weather was fine, much more then fine in fact; it was a stunning day. Clear and dry, if not a little bit on the warm side. We met at the tofu factory and set off at around 3pm. I took along only my 7D II with 100-400mm lens with me, as I had to carry along the telescope as well. Things started off slowly, with common species at first, most showed well for everyone to enjoy. Stilts, Avocets, Wood Sandpipers, Little-ringed Plovers, Yellow Wagtails, Siberian Stonechats...the usual birds all greeted us nicely. We moved along to the pond where the Eastern Water Rail had been around, at first it didn't show, but then I moved along and found the bird standing by the water edge half blocked by vegetation. The Rail got spooked and not everyone saw it. Just as we thought we were out of luck, the Rail reappeared! Trotted along the water's edge, being as exposed a Water Rail can be, I even managed a record shot of it before it skulked back into the tall grass. Everyone was happy, me included!

Met Kwok Jai right after wandering on his own, he found the group some nicely camouflaged Painted Snipes that were very shy. Masters of disguise, these Painted Snipes gave our visitors a very hard time...I didn't even bother with a photo. As the group stopped by the organic farm to get some fresh veggies, my Father spotted a Black-faced Bunting, unfortunately it was too quick for the group. I managed a record shot however. We also got Sooty-headed Bulbul on the day, a nice addition to the day list.

We ended our tour at around 5pm, a good two hours to introduce Long Valley to the guys. Kwok Jai tagged along our car, on our way out right next to the road by the river, I spotted a shrike standing on a top of a ginger plant, it looked suspiciously reddish...I had Red-backed Shrike on my mind, but as we stopped the car a quick inspection revealed it as a female Bull-headed Shrike. Not exactly a Red-backed but a nice find none the less! I am very Okay with that. I had limited reach with my lens, so a distance record shot ended my day.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Forest Birds Research - Yinpingshan Forest Park #3 + Long Valley

I had my third visit of Yinpingshan Forest Park with Captain Wong, a big gap in-between our two visits because it had been difficult to find time that fits everyone's timetable. We finally found time and off we went for another visit. We again stayed a night at Zhang Mu Tou and headed out at 6:30am in our pre-arranged taxi with the driver Mr. Choi whom we met last time, it's always handy to keep a contact of the local drivers! We got there by 7:00am, just when the sky started to brighten, the weather was fine with little clouds. Soon after we got off and got our gears out, we heard the Bay Woodpecker calling close-by, a burst of call back and a pair responded quickly, showing itself just at the public toilet next to the car park. We were quite surprise that they will show up in such degraded habitat, but it seems they are not actually that fussy about where they find food...I think the main concern for them is that they need good habitat for breeding purposes. I couldn't manage any decent photos, so a record shot is all I got.

Bay Woodpecker - by far the most common Woodpecker we have encountered.

There were plenty of Thrushes on the way up, notably a Grey-backed Thrush and a White's Thrush by the road side. I also saw a Blue Whistling Thrush later on. White's Thrush is new on our site list, likely a regular winter visitor to this site. The bird stayed a fair distant away from us however.

Grey-backed Thrush

White's Thrush - record shot...

Red-flanked Bluetails were EVERYWHERE, you literally would find one every few minutes. We saw at least 15 individuals in total. Most were females, but we also got a few males but none were close enough to have a clear shot taken. To our surprise, there were very little visitors compare to our last two visits, the rain from the day before might have put off some early hikers.

Red-flanked Bluetail

Things went very quiet after the first round...We were not sure what were the reasons behind, but strong wind is likely to be one factor. The trees were swaying and we could hardly hear anything. Even when we encountered small bird waves they remained fairly silent. Bird waves consisted mainly of Minivets, Cinerous Tits, Yellow-browed and Pallas's Leaf Warblers. We found a more interesting warbler in a Goodson's Leaf Warbler, also new addition to our site list.

Goodson's Leaf Warbler

Bird were not particularly active, when we finally reached the third public toilet, we saw little else. A pair of Slaty-backed Forktail flashed very briefly and were out of sight. We found one flock of Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush, a species that seems to be scarce at this site. Going back down the the main road, a single Tristram's Bunting was observe, a fine male. I managed a half decent record shot, only to have the bird cut in half by a branch in front...

Tristram's Bunting - the branch cut right through the middle!

Back at lower elevations, we followed the river downhill, the path running alongside the river seems to have been opened again after being closed for repair the last two times we visited. By that time people were starting to hike up, songs had also started playing on the loud speakers fitted by the park authorities...a decision that still baffles me, why would anyone in their right mind put loud speakers that plays music in a tranquil forest park?! I hope this trend will not extend to Hong Kong...We looked for Plumbeous Redstarts but found none, only a male Daurian Redstart along the river.

Daurian Redstart - would have been nicer if it was a Plumbeous Redstart...

On the same path, we saw a small bird wave with a few Red-billed Leiothrix and White-bellied Epornis. Conditions weren't the best for photography, plus I was using my 100-400mm lens which is a lot slower at focusing, making things more difficult. I did managed a half decent record shot of the Epornis. We soon got to the car park and Mr. Choi picked us up at around 12:15pm, the trip back to train station and back to Hong Kong was very straight forward, we were across the border by 1:30pm!

Red-billed Leiothrix

White-bellied Epornis

Later in the afternoon, I met my parents at Fanling. It was my Father's day off, so he decided to spend a few hours at Long Valley in the afternoon, which I gladly followed. Not carrying around my 500mm means that birds seemed a lot further away...Nonetheless, we found some decent birds. Five Buff-bellied Pipits in total, one gave some decent views.

Buff-bellied Pipit

The Greater Painted Snipes were still at the same location, always half obscured. Things were actually quite good at that location, we saw a single Black-browed Reed Warbler skulking about the tall grass, occasionally giving us distant but decent views. A Plain Prinia was however more then happy to show off to us, it was right by my feet when I took this photo! I even saw a male Buethroat that perched on a wire there, but was too far away that I didn't even bother to take a photo.

Greater Painted Snipe - along with Common Snipe on the left

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Plain Prinia

Just around the corner looking from the other side, a Zitting Cisticola decided to show itself to us, giving quite good views. It perched for a minute or two before melting back into the tall grass, never to appear again. A few steps ahead an Eastern Water Rail walked across the pond, I later found it hid amongst the thick grass preening, giving some obscured views. Views were nothing compare to last year's, but it's still nice to see this shy species. Finally, a Daurian Redstart perched on some very man-made structures just by the car park at Ho Sheung Heung before we left.

Zitting Cisticola

Eastern Water Rail

Daurian Redstart - somehow the colours goes quite nicely with it...

Monday 15 February 2016

American Wigeon - Howdy partner?

An American Wigeon had been around Mai Po board walk for quite some time, I have not had the time to visit this very lost vagrant. This is our second American species this winter (Franklin's Gull being the first) that had wandered far from it's natural range. This species should be wintering somewhere in Southern United States or as far south as Central America, but somehow this one had found it's way to Hong Kong.

American Wigeon - Howdy partner! You could have wintered in Texas.

My Father and I arrived at Mai Po just around 12:30pm. The tide was predicted to be highest at 2:30pm at 1.9m, so that gave us plenty of time. Things started off OK, I got 3 very distant Buff-bellied Pipit upon walking to the AFCD warden's post. At the warden's post a flock of Silky Starlings were close-by. After that, it was all walking. We went directly to the furthest floating bird hide.

Buff-bellied Pipit - a little too far away...

Silky Starling

Upon arrival, we found the bird hide already packed with people! Luckily there was still a space in the corner left for us, so we settled in and started searching. Common birds to start with...Regular Eurasian Wigeons, Shovelers, Pintails, Teals...etc, then there were Curlews, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Pacific Golden Plovers, Temmink's Stints...Black-headed Gulls were everywhere and a few Saunder's Gulls. A single injured Bar-tailed Godwit foraged around, one of it's feet looked strange. Quite a few Common Snipes were hiding in the grass near the bird hide. An Osprey perched on it's favourite spot, a very usual site for Deep Bay. A Black-faced Spoonbill came to about 5 meters to our bird hide, which gave me an opportunity to take some closeup portraits. Great Cormorants were everywhere...

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Curlew

Mixed bag of Pacific Golden Plover, Redshanks and Marsh Sandpiper in the back.

Pacific Golden Plover

Temmink's Stint

Saunder's Gull and Black-headed Gull

Greenshank with Bar-tailed Godwit

Common Snipe


Black-faced Spoonbill - extreme closeup

Great Cormorant

Suddenly, there was a huge commotion of birds and everything scattered! Surely enough, an Eastern Marsh Harrier flew past, looking for it's next meal. This is always a spectacle to witness.

All panic!

Eastern Marsh Harrier

After the birds had settled, Michelle Wong spotted the American Wigeon in the flock. I soon locked the telescope onto the bird base on her descriptions. It was moving fast with the other ducks, and I couldn't even come around to show my Dad and I lost it in the huge flock of Eurasian Wigeons. It was out of sight for some time, until another raptor flushed the whole flock of ducks back to the right. I scanned the water once again, and this time relocated the dabbler shortly. This time it was in view long enough for everyone to enjoy! It look so different when you can compare it to Eurasian Wigeons side by side, it looks a little chunkier as well with a bigger head. Great to finally connecting with this rare dabbler, another new tick for me!

American Wigeon - what we came here for today

After we were all satisfied with our American vagrant, we started concentrating on the gulls...None of the rarer wintering gulls were in sight, and no sign of the Franklin's Gull either. So, I settled in to study on the larger gulls presented before me. Three species of large Larus winters in Hong Kong, Heuglin's Gull, Caspian Gull (mongolicus)and Vega Gull. Identification of large gulls in Hong Kong was highly debated many years ago, but it seems the experts had finally settled with these three as our "basic" Herring Gull type species now. Heuglin's are by far our most common of the three, it also got the darkest mantle of the trio. So, it make sense for us to look for birds with lighter mantles, I found one of them that looked promising as a Caspian Gull mongolicus, although it's leg is still quite yellowish instead of the pinkish, but the larger size, cleaner head patterns and lighter mantle make me lean towards it being one? I later saw one inflight with more obvious pinkish legs that I am calling as mongolicus as well...Vega Gull is a little easier, they have the most "dirty" heads, and pinkish legs are also a good indicator. It's the least common of the trio, so it was nice to get a good look. At one point it was approached by a Heuglin's with broken wings while it was sleeping.

Heuglin's Gull - our "baseline"

Caspian Gull (mongolicus) - please do point me out if I am wrong!

Vega Gull

Just as we were packing our things, a White-breasted Kingfisher came and perched on one of the "kingfishers post", a classic pose to end the day!

White-breasted Kingfisher - lovely note to end the day

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Tristram's Bunting - Local patch speciality

A walk at Tai Po Kau in the morning was not very productive, although good birds were recorded by others, I didn't encounter none of those! Sulpher-breasted Warbler and White-spectacled Warbler were both seen by other birders, I only heard the Bay Woodpecker today, which was pretty active.

My Father thought he saw a few Tristram's Buntings while he went for a run at the jogging trail. So, after lunch and a quick nap, I headed out to see if I could find anything interesting at our local patch. It didn't take long before I saw a small flock of at least seven Tristram's Buntings feeding on the ground, but they were quite skittish and went straight into cover upon seeing me. It took a while before they came back out feeding again and I managed to take a few shots of these pretty Buntings. This species had long been a winter speciality at Wonderland Villas, back a few years we also had quite a few of those and they attracted quite a lot of photographers and birders.

Tristram's Bunting

Wonderland Villas had been quite quiet in recent years, and I am glad that things have picked up the pace slightly this year. In the few hours along the trial and the gully, I had four Red-flanked Bluetail, one Daurian Redstart, Grey-backed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, Asian Stubtail Warbler, Chestnut Bulbuls. Finally, I had an Eurasian Woodcock along the gully, although it spotted me before I spotted it and it flew away before I could reach for my camera...unfortunate but still a decent record for my local patch!