Thursday 31 March 2016

Slaty-legged Crake in the Park

News of a Slaty-legged Crake at Hutchison Park near Hung Hom surfaced a few days ago. My first encounter with this species was many years ago in Kowloon Park, where one turned up and caused quite a lot of excitement amongst the birding community back then. The second time it was at Lai Chi Kok Park, another urban park. These Crakes are not particularly rare in Hong Kong, we get them annually as regular summer visitors and scarce passage migrants, you can sometimes hear them on various hill sides or country parks calling at night. However, seeing one is another matter, they are quiet and very secretive in the forest, moving along the floor without making much noise.

Slaty-legged Crake - a Crake species that seems to favour urban parks

On Tuesday upon hearing the news, I teamed up with Bee Yu to find the bird on Wednesday morning. We met at Hung Hom Station and walked to Hutchison Park, arriving at around 7:30am. A handful of other birders and photographers had already arrived, huddled up in front of the small patch of bushes the bird had been feeding around. Very soon we had our eyes upon the Crake, walking leisurely along the bushes and lawns, only a few feet away from the many passerby whom would have walked past it obliviously if not for the dozens of long lens pointing at it's direction. For the next 45 minutes, the Crake performed very well and was out and about feeding constantly.

This prehistoric looking creature truly looks like an animal straight out from the Jurassic, looking through the viewfinder I swear it could have been a dinosaur, the way it walked and stalked amongst the undergrowth really sets it apart from other "modern" birds. Slaty-legged Crakes are famous for their "tameness" amongst people, this one was no exception, it would feed from one side of the road to the other, walking right by your feet to get to the other side. We were pretty much happy with the images we had by 8:30, so we decided to head for breakfast. In good time as more people arrived to come and see this bird. This bird is likely on migration, I heard they like to travel at night in the cover of darkness, let's hope it will find it's way out of the maze that is the Kowloon Peninsular without much trouble.

Monday 28 March 2016

Mai Po in Action - Spring

Spring time marks an increase in both bird species and activities, and that was very apparent at Mai Po today. My Dad and I arrived at around 9:30am at Mai Po car park, various birds were in song; including Koels, Magpie Robins, Yellow-browed Warblers and a lot of Greater Coucals. We saw one perched right in the open just after we entered the gate, not a sight we see everyday! Greater Coucals are very common, but they are never easy to see well or up close. You really get to appreciate their true colours in good lighting.

Greater Coucal - not your everyday view

We went straight to the North Hide at Deep Bay, arriving in good time just before the tide came close. Quite a few waders were already feeding right in front of the hide, most were common waders with a noticeable increase in Terek Sandpipers and Curlew Sandpipers. There were also plenty of Broadbill Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints, Dunlins, Kentish get the idea.

Heading out to Deep Bay

Eurasian Curlew


Greater Sand Plover

Terek Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Not many large gulls remain, only a few were present, most have gone back up north to their breeding grounds already. Of those I saw were a few Heuglin's and this one (I am not 100% sure) I am guessing is a Caspian Gull (mongolicus), as always I am not particularly good with Gulls ID so I am open to suggestions.

Caspian Gull (mongolicus)?

Caspian Terns are now abundant, they are one of my all time favourite, flocks now congregate at the mudflats. They are amongst one of the top models for photographers, gracefully soaring through the sky guided by their bright red beaks, they make very good subjects for flying shots.

Caspian Tern

As the tide moved higher, most smaller waders move on elsewhere to feed, but bigger waders and birds remained. A Grey Heron was in sight, most are winter visitors so we are seeing less of them now, but a few do stay to summer here with us, this could be one of them. A Common Kingfisher perched on the "Kingfisher rod" shortly.

Grey Heron

Common Kingfisher

The tide soon came in and flooded the front of the hide, as waders moves with the tide we also moved with them, where we retreated to the old bird hide to look for some other waders. There we were greeted by dozens of Grey Plovers, still looking quite drab...The Great Knots however are starting to moult into breeding plumage. Only a few Bar-tailed Godwits were present, they stood amongst the Curlews instead with the other Godwits. A Far Eastern Curlew stood out from the crowed, easily recognisable by their buffish belly when stationary, quoting John Holmes who was also at the hide at the time "There's always one" amongst a flock of Eurasian Curlews.

Grey Plover

Great Knot

Bar-tailed Godwit

Far Eastern Curlew - accompanied by a Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew

Most Black-faced Spoonbills had moved on and started their journey back to their breeding grounds in North East China, North Korea or South Korea. Those that are still here have transformed into their breeding plumage, a stark difference to their very modest winter plumage. Seeing that we got most things covered out at Deep Bay and that most birds have moved on, we head back out to the scrapes.

Black-faced Spoonbill - breeding plumage

Nothing but Avocets!

Back to the fence, Prinias were singing everywhere, a Yellow-bellied Prinia popped out from the cover and sang right in front of me, a clear behavioural change from the skulking nature in winter. Another bird that had went through tremendous transformation are the Great Egrets, not only had their bill colour completely changed from yellow to black, but their face turned to a bright green. Their back feathers also grow into long plumes that cascade down their back and fluff up like a Peacock when in display, we took some time observing their breeding rituals and was completely mesmerised by their beautiful dance. We also saw a Hoopoe along the metal fence but it didn't stay long enough for me to take a photo. I did however managed to photograph a female Daurian Redstart, this could be the last I see of this species as they should be heading north very soon and we won't see them again until autumn.

Yellow-bellied Prinia

Great Egret - extremely beautiful dance and mating rituals

Daurian Redstart - might not see them again until Autumn

At bird hide no.6, I scanned a flock of a hundred Greenshanks in front of the hide and found a Nordmann's Greenshank sleeping with it's head tucked away. Although you can't see their diagnostic bill or knee you can always tell by their plumage, their feathers on the scapulars and coverts are usually quite distinct in that they have thicker white edge and darker interior, giving them a "spotty" look from afar. To my annoyance, something spooked the birds and the flock flew off, landing a bit further away. Fortunately we relocated the bird (could be a different individual) and took a few record shots of it with it's head up. Note the shorter bill and yellowish base.

Nordmann's Greenshank - they just look different...

Another bird that stood out like a sore thumb amongst the Greenshanks was a single Black-tailed Godwit, now in it's reddish breeding plumage. The rest of it's buddies are much more unified, flying as one flock when an Eastern Marsh Harrier came and flushed everything.

Black-tailed Godwit - you lost?

Black-tailed Godwits - unified flight

Eastern Marsh Harrier

There was also an odd Grey-headed Lapwing amongst the other waders. Gull-billed Terns are much more modest then their bigger cousins, their black bills keep the attention away from them, I see them like the students sitting at the back of the classroom. A single Osprey sat in the middle of the scrape, I wasn't sure what it was doing sitting in the water like that, cooling it's feet perhaps?

Grey-headed Lapwing - a very scruffy looking one

Gull-billed Terns


Heading back out past the Tower Hide, a male Black-faced Bunting hopped along the ground, it was quite skittish so I only managed a half decent record shot. My Father managed a record shot at a Little Bunting not far off. To my surprise a few more Buntings were up ahead and I could barely believe my own eyes when I looked through my bins. Two Japanese Yellow Buntings, AGAIN! Who say lightning never strike twice? What are the chances to see this scarce species on two consecutive outings? Honestly, i would never have thought. I even wonder if these are in fact the same birds we saw at Long Valley...Birding is full of surprises.

Black-faced Bunting - male in breeding plumage

Little Bunting - photo credit to my Father

Japanese Yellow Bunting - seeing you again so soon!

Afternoon at Local Patch

Didn't really want to go anywhere far this afternoon so thought I would head home to walk around my local patch to see what had turned up in Spring. For those who don't already know, Wonderland Villas had been where I grew up and naturally it's also my local patch, some good birds had turned up here through the years, but birding can be very slow here at times. Autumn and Winter are usually quite good, with traditionally very weak Summer and relatively quiet Spring. Things started off pretty usual, but still pleasant in form of the half a dozen Tristram's Buntings that had been around all winter. The males are starting to moult into breeding plumage and are looking smart. They were quite cooperative today, skittish at first but were feeding at close range once they got used to my presence. Patience paid off...

Tristram's Bunting - male

A few females came even closer...It's been a good year for this species at Wonderland Villas, I hope they can return every year, they are quite entertaining.

Tristram's Bunting - female

Down at the gully, Grey-backed Thrushes were very apparent, I counted more then a dozen but all were skittish, so I didn't bother with photos. A single Rufous-tailed Robin was present, likely have been here all winter. Colours looking a little less dull now in Spring. But as usual, very difficult to get a good photograph of.

Rufous-tailed Robin

A surprise came in form of a beautiful male Blue-and-White Flycatcher. It's been a good year for this species around Hong Kong, quite a lot had been recorded in various locations, a very regular Spring migrant. This is however a patch tick for me personally! I have never seen them at Wonderland Villas before, so it was delighting to add this beautiful species onto our patch list. I personally think this is the subspecies intermedia due to the blueish breast, however I am no expert in this field so I will leave this call to the experts. 

Blue-and-White Flycatcher - intermedia (I think) a new patch tick for me!

Finally, a large shadow that swooped right passed me at the gully turned out to be a Crested Goshawk. This is our resident accipitar, quite common at Wonderland Villas, no doubt they keep the numbers of small birds in check...It only perched shortly before flying off into the forest without a trace, ending my two and a half hour local patch walk with an exclamation mark!

Crested Goshawk - King of the jungle here...