Saturday 30 April 2016

Franklin's Gulls and a bit more - One day at Mai Po

A Saturday free must not be wasted, this morning saw me arriving at Mai Po at around 9:30am. I arrived much earlier then the predicted tide as I didn't want to miss anything, most notably the pair of Franklin's Gulls that had been sticking around. Months ago I saw the Franklin's at Deep Bay, it had been seen on and off since then. Only a few weeks ago however did birders suddenly realise there were in fact TWO of this mega rarity! Whether it was one and was joined later by the other or were there a pair all along will remain a bit of a mystery, but it's very unlikely that I will see two of this rare vagrant at the same time in Hong Kong again if I miss these two.

Franklin's Gull - the pair of American vagrant

First bird I saw was one of the now resident pair of Asian Barred Owlets along the access path past AFCD warden's post. It wasn't difficult to pick out and allowed quite good views. Not a bad start to the day at all!

Asian Barred Owlet - one of the most easily seen Owl species in Hong Kong

I was soon sitting at the new bird hide out at Deep Bay mud flat. Not a lot to see as the tide was still way out, so I took some time looking at fiddlers crabs and mud skippers; both staples for the numerous waders at here. They are themselves quite entertaining to watch, especially the mudskippers. They are quite territorial and will fight over good burrows, where you will see them "waving their flags" as a warning display to scare off any potential rivals. If the warning is ignored they will engage in mud wrestling.

Fiddlers Crab


A few birds showed up later on, mostly common waders including Greater Sand Plovers, Grey Plovers, Whimbrels and Terek Sandpipers. They kept me well entertained. A few Grey-tailed Tattlers were also feeding close to the bird hide, this is a typical migrant wader here in Hong Kong, it's the right time to see them right now.

Greater Sand Plover

Grey Plover


Terek Sandpiper

Grey-tailed Tattler

One of the most unusual sighting of the day, a Purple Heron flew out from the mangroves and landed right on the mud-flat. This species rarely ventures out from cover, so I wasn't too sure what this one was planning on doing, it certainly looked out of place. Gull-billed Terns were still in good numbers, a few show-off their aerobatic skills in front of the hide, snatching up food from the ground in mid-flight. There were still a few Caspian Terns around, but most have already moved on.

Purple Heron - an unusual setting for this species

Gull-billed Tern

Caspian Tern

A few Ruddy Turnstones came close to the bird hide, this is another passage migrant wader. A colourful species (waders standard), they certainly are eye-catching. They look for little snails in the mud and swallows them whole.

Ruddy Turnstone

A pair of Pied Kingfisher kept flying about, the male kept giving the female "gifts", so no doubt they are a breeding pair. This behaviour is not uncommon amongst birds, it's safe to say that birds do understand romance. It's a shame I missed the moment the male delivered the fish to the female, but as you can see, it was quite a big gift, it took the female a few tries to swallow it whole.

Pied Kingfisher

As the tide came closer, smaller waders became more visible. Curlew Sandpipers, which most have now transformed into their rufous breeding plumage are easy to pick out from the crowd. A few Long-toed Stints fed along the waterline. Red-necked Stints also gathered to feed along with Broad-billed Sandpipers. I picked up a single Sanderling amongst the group, it's very "white" compare to other small waders.

Curlew Sandpiper

Long-toed Stint

Red-necked Stint

Broad-billed Sandpipers

Flock of smaller waders


A Little Tern came by shortly. I have always liked this tiny tern, as with all terns they are quite elegant, yet they have this kind of playfulness to their character which makes them very likeable. 

Little Tern

Finally, my main target of the day. The pair of Franklin's didn't disappoint, although staying quite far, this view was still much better then my last, and to see two at the same time was incredible! They are now moulting into their breeding plumage, so picking them out from the crowd was not that difficult. One of the Gull later took flight and circled around for quite some time, calling constantly. The pair soon flew off into the distance. I do wonder whether this pair will find their way home, even if they do stay, it's highly unlikely that they will find anywhere suitable for nesting here in Hong Kong...

Franklin's Gull - now assuming breeding plumage

Franklin's Gull - in flight

A strange looking large Gull was terrorising other birds, can't quite figure out what exactly it is but it seems to be some type of hybrid? It surely got a bad temper though as it chased the egrets around trying to snatch the fish out of one of the egret's beak. A big bully indeed. Other egrets and the remaining Spoonbills couldn't care less and was focusing on a feeding frenzy. 

Hybrid Gull?

Black-faced Spoonbills & Egrets - feeding frenzy!

I headed back out to the scrapes, passing the Great Egret colony once again. They seems to be doing quite well, there seems to be a few chicks in the nests. I saw quite a few carrying nesting materials back to the colony as well. The displaying egrets are always fun to watch.

Great Egret - "surely you know you are not a peacock?"

The waders weren't particularly close at scrape 16/17, I did manage to spot a Nordmann's Greenshank but it was too far for any decent photographs. There were however quite a lot of Pale Martins feeding along the pond. As I was photographing the Martins I saw a small swift amongst the flock, a quick look reveal it to be a Himalayan Swiftlet! I have a much better look this time and even managed a few record shot of this quick species.

Pale Martin

Himalayan Swiftlet 

The Pacific Golden Plovers at the scrape weren't particularly close, but their beautiful breeding plumage sure make them stand out from the crowd. There were a flock of Red-necked Stints there but was scared off by a Black Kite before I have time to scan through them for any possible Spoonbilled Sandpipers...Later on my way out I saw a pair of Little Grebes, a closer look reveals that it was a parent tending to it's young.

Pacific Golden Plover

Little Grebe - juvenile

On my way out at Mai Po Access Road, Whiskered Terns filled up the skies above the fish ponds. It's such a typical view this time of the year. I spotted one or two Little Terns along with them. And they provided a wonderful ending to such a fulfilling day.

Whiskered Tern

Little Tern

Thursday 21 April 2016

Take a Break - Tai Po Kau

April had been a busy month, there wasn't much time for any birding. Birds had been plentiful everywhere, but when you have no time on your hand then it doesn't matter even if a Dodo turns up. A day off finally gave me time to rest (in rest I mean waking up at 6am), and to spend some time alone in the forest of Tai Po Kau. It was quite cloudy and when I got to the car park it was very foggy; not ideal conditions for birdwatching but I pushed on. It wasn't too hot, but the air was extremely humid. On my way up, I heard a familiar call at a fair distant from the access road. The call of a Drongo Cuckoo, ascending in pitch on each of it's seven notes, they are quite rare in Hong Kong so I took this as a good omen.

I reached the AFCD warden's mass shortly, it was so foggy that it was impossible to see anything. I waited at the rain shelter for the mist to clear. It wasn't until around 8:30am that the fog started to lift, then I spotted a small bird pecking at a bamboo. It could only be a Speckled Piculet. They are now regularly seen in Hong Kong and Tai Po Kau is now one of their strong holds, but this doesn't make them any easier to photograph...Some half decent record shots in such terrible lighting was all I managed.

Speckled Piculet

I waited for a little longer for the Piculet to come out again, but it never did again. So, I went up to do a loop around the trails. A Blue Whistling Thrush flicked it's tail around the base of the dam, although I see them often I still think they are one of my favourite bird in Hong Kong (Yes I do have a lot of favourites). Just past the public toilet I heard the song of a Plain Flowerpecker, a scarce species that is seldom recorded nowadays. A burst of playback brought one down from the canopy and gave me some cracking views! This is our smallest bird species in Hong Kong, measuring at mere 8cm, I am not surprise that this species is not recorded more often, their size and behaviour can be easily missed. It had been a long time since I last saw this species in Hong Kong, so a very pleasant record for me personally, no doubt stole the "bird of the day" prize from the Piculet.

Blue Whistling Thrush

Plain Flowerpecker - the humble looking star of the day

The Blue walk was fairly quiet, there wasn't that many interesting birds to be seen. Silver-eared Mesias were very active, many of them weren't in flocks but in pairs, a sign that they have started breeding. Along the way I saw a few White-bellied Epornis, managed to take some better photos today, my previous photographs of this species had all been pretty blurry, so I was glad I got some decent shots finally. A flock of Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush came through, they were strangely quiet. A few Black-throated Laughingthrushes were with them.

Silver-eared Mesia

White-bellied Epornis

Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush

Tai Po Kau in April cannot be completed without seeing the beautiful Hainan Blue Flycatcher, which have returned to breed. I heard at least 5 pairs along the trail. Their melodious songs already echoing through the hills, announcing their presence to everyone. One of them gave particularly good views, this male was not shy at showing off it's song and it's plumage.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher

The rest of the way was pretty quiet, I was a bit disappointed that the Chinese Barbet did not call once. Another pair of Silver-eared Mesias saw me off at the access road, rounding up my visit nicely.

Silver-eared Mesia