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!


  1. It was great to see Mai Po at its' early spring best today....Thanks for this.nice account of a fine morning of birding.

    1. Good to see you on the day John, was a very enjoyable day indeed.

  2. A lovely series of photos, and a wonderful reminder of how fantastic Mai Po can be. Especially love the tern pics!

    1. Cheers Jeremy, Mai Po never seizes to amaze and surprise, there are always things to see there.