Sunday, 22 May 2016

A Sunday Afternoon With The Grassbird - Tai Mo Shan

It took some thinking how to spend one's Sunday afternoon, in the end I chose to take a walk around the summit area of our tallest mountain in Hong Kong. Here in Hong Kong, we don't really have massively huge mountain ranges, but what we have are hilly terrain. Tai Mo Shan is the summit in Central New Territories, it's pretty much dead centre when you look at the map of Hong Kong, much more so then Central. Here, you will find a range of species you don't usually get at lower elevations, it's here that you can find short bamboos and grasslands slopes with scrubs and short trees and our "upland" specialities that are associated with this habitat, these includes the globally scarce Chinese Grassbird, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Upland Pipit, Russet Bush Warbler, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Chinese Francolin and Chinese Babax. The Babax have became very rare and only recorded very sparingly.

Chinese Grassbird - one of our main upland attraction

It is my believe that our "upland" species are now under the pressure of habitat loss, but not from deforestation that you often hear about, but from trees growing too tall, the species of tree that seems to be over growing the most are the Common Machilus or Red Nanmu (紅楠). The ever ascending tree line slowly replaces the grassland and short bamboos that some of these bird's species needs for breeding, which may in turn be damaging to the breeding population. It's difficult to judge whether managing some of the trees may help, but certainly we must ensure there are enough habitat for these small pockets of breeding population in order for them to continue thriving.

Looking towards the summit, note the advancing trees on the grassy slopes

It was a beautiful afternoon, maybe a bit on the hot side even. I rarely venture up to Tai Mo Shan in the afternoon, so I wasn't really sure what to expect with the birds, will they be active? Turns out it was least of my worries, I had a good numbers of Brown-flanked Bush Warblers calling upon arrival. I walked all the way up to the usual birding spot and was soon welcomed by an inquisitive individual, checking me out. A burst of playback brought it to the tree next to me, it gave me a good look and fluttered off.

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler - posing on a rare occasion!

Chinese Francolins mocked me constantly with their "Come to the Peak, Haha!" call, several were calling but none gave me a look! I waited around the area I last saw a Chinese Grassbird last year but I heard no calls. Only a few pairs of Vinous-throated Parrotbills skulked about the scrubs and undergrowth, it seemed like their breeding season is in process as they were all too busy finding food and did not for once wanted to stop for a photo.

Environment shot of the upland habitat

Vinous-throated Parrotbill - don't quite fancy a photo

Seeing that nothing else was around, I headed down a narrow path downhill, hoping to spot something interesting. The path was obviously walked very sparsely, I didn't meet a soul on this Sunday afternoon and the grass seemed a little overgrown; a good sign! A stopped at various spots listening out for calls, but didn't get much. A very distant Crested Serpent Eagle had me mistaken for a Francolin! A Large-billed Crow chased it off soon after. I ventured further down hill, much further then I usually go, where the path became a little treacherous but not unmanageable.

Crested Serpent Eagle - a good imitation of the Francolin quite frankly...

Grassbird Country

It was here that I suddenly heard the ugly and harsh unmistakable call of the Chinese Grassbird. I soon located it not so far off on a stalk of bamboo shoot, calling. I took a few shots and played a quick burst of playback, which had it fluttered closer, finally stopping on a rocky outcrop! It continued to call from the rock for a good minute or so before dropping back down into the sea of short bamboos. A real treat to get such wonderful views of this globally scarce species! For those who are unfamiliar with this species, the Chinese Grassbird have very limited global range and only until recently, Hong Kong had been the only source of reliable records for the last 80 years. A pocket of population have been rediscovered in both Myanmar and Cambodia in recent years, but with ongoing habitat loss of suitable habitats, the fate of this species maybe under threat. Therefore, the Chinese Grassbird population in Hong Kong is of international importance, and I sure hope we will continue to hear that ugly and unattractive call on these grassy slopes.

Chinese Grassbird - 

Finally, a flock of cattle grazing along the path as I was on my way back down to the car park. I guess it's a good thing they keep some of the grass and plants in check so they don't over grown. Their dung are of course good fertilisers. So, thank you cattles!

1 comment:

  1. Great to see the Grassbird so clearly - nice shots !