Saturday, 19 March 2016

Red-throated Diver - A Lamma Island Twitch

Being in the subtropical region, we don't get many arctic visitors except for arctic breeding waders. One genera of bird that is particularly rare in Hong Kong are the Divers (or Loons depending on your location), where there's only been a handful of records in my birding days. Most notably a Red-throated Diver at Starling Inlet in 2005, which I missed. Back then I was still studying in the UK and I remember clearly how my Father had bragged about seeing that individual really up close. Having felt so envious for years, a chance finally opened up to me to get this species onto my Hong Kong list when a report of an individual at Yung Shu Wan on Lamma Island on the 17th of March popped up on both the HKBWS forum and a birding whatsapp group. Frustrated that I could not sneak off work on Friday due to a meeting, I had to wait till Saturday to get some free time. I was so worried that it may not stay long enough for me that I could barely sleep!

I was accompanied by Bee Yu on this misty morning, we met at Central Pier no.4 at 7am, catching the 7:30am boat to Yung Shu Wan, at least a dozen oither birders were also on the same boat. We got to Lamma Island at around 8am and immediately we saw a handful of birders photographing our target bird from a small pier. Feeling relieved, we took some long range record shots from the main pier. The bird later swam towards a pier on the far side of the bay, and we followed. When we got there we were just in time to catch the bird swimming close to shore! Way too close for my 500mm with 1.4 extensions! A few birders rented boats to try and get some closer views, but in practice there wasn't really much need as you just have to wait a little longer and the bird will swim towards you in no time! Other birds in the bay includes numerous Egrets, Common Kingfishers and a White-breasted Kingfisher.

Red-throated Diver - a Hong Kong tick I waited for 11 years

View looking out to the pier at Yung Shu Wan

Great Egret - on a fishing boat

Birders trying to get close to the Diver on boat

For the next hour or so, the bird performed extremely well, giving amazing views for all to enjoy. The Diver swam back to the other side of the bay, and again we followed, this time giving amazing views from the beach! Even diners at the restaurants were curious what all the buzz was all about. According to the locals, the bird had been here for nearly a week now, stating that it was not afraid of people at all. Captain Wong was in time to join us at the beach to enjoy a good 30 minutes of the close encounter.

Only a small fraction of the many birders on the Island shown here

Red-throated Diver - 

It was constantly preening, I am not sure if this is a normal behaviour, but it certainly didn't look too badly in shape. Although I doubt this is a fully healthy bird, as most healthy Divers should be staying further out at sea and not so close to the shore like this one. Let's just hope this one can gain a bit more strength to continue it's journey back north.

Red-throated Diver - constantly preening and flapping it's wings about

This is only the fifth or sixth record for Hong Kong, so you can imagine how much excitement it had generated amongst keen birders. The island's locals were feeling excited as well as this bird suddenly brought in a lot of visitors with big lenses and cameras.

One last shot before departure!

The mist came in soon after, so we decided to celebrate with a spot of breakfast at a local restaurant. The Diver continued to swim around the Bay as we ate. Seeing that it was still very early, Bee Yu, Captain and I decided to head to Kowloon Park on our way back to look for the long staying male Fujian Niltava that had been around for more then a month. It became a very "tamed" bird after photographers started feeding it and gained celebrity status very quickly at the park, with over 60 photographers staking out the bird at one time. But as with any other pop celebrity, it's fame diminished quickly and most people had already forgotten about this bird. I visits staked out birds in Hong Kong very sparingly, and when I do I prefer to go when the initial attention had cooled off.

We took the star ferry at Central to Tsim Sha Tsui and walked to the park, it was 11:30 by the time we arrived, only a dozen photographers were around. I quickly spotted the bird up in the tree, and after 10 minutes it came down to the "stake out" post, looking for any food offered by the photographers. It wasn't much challenge to get some decent shots of this stunner, and we were off before noon.

Fujian Niltava - A very handsome bird

All in all a productive day to start the Spring migration season, migrants are coming in now with reports of Blue-and-White Flycatchers in various locations. Hopefully I will have some time in the coming weeks to visit Po Toi Island...


  1. Great series of photos of the diver, thanks for the update! The niltava looked to be a stunner too.

    1. Thanks Jeremy, both fantastic birds indeed for 1 weekend!

  2. Sounds like Lamma was busy over the weekend....nice shots...

    1. Yes John, it was pretty busy, Sunday afternoon was already much quieter though!

  3. A friend from Australia was over on holiday this week and couldn't work out what all the excitement and expensive camera gear was all about. Great spotting, always exciting to add something new to your lifer or country list. Your photos are fabulous.

    1. Thank you, it was nice to also share with some Lamma Island locals about this exciting bird! I just hope it will feel well enough to continue on with it's journey.

  4. What a beautiful and glorious series of photos!