Monday, 2 May 2016

Spring Time Catch Up

It's near the end of Spring, weather's been much wetter and fairly unstable. Southerly winds have made today much more humid and warm. As it was Labour Day holiday, my Father had a day off, so he was able to join me birding today, a rare luxury for him nowadays. We were joined by Long Long, whom we picked up at 7:15am and arriving at Tai Po Kau at around 7:30am. Our main target of this visit was the long staying Chinese Barbet, which have been reported to be very active of late. I have only heard it before and have yet to get any photographic record of this species in Hong Kong, so I was hoping to at least see the bird well. We immediately heard the bird calling from the AFCD warden's mass when we got up to the top of the slope. We hurried there and soon got distance views of the bird perched high up on the tallest tree. I gave a quick burst of playback and the Barbet rushed from it's perch to a tree nearby, it gave very prolonged views at a reasonably close range.

Chinese Barbet - a new addition to Tai Po Kau forest

At one point it perched right on the Ginkgo Tree which provided a feast for the eyes! In good lighting you can really appreciate the amazing mixture of colours in this single bird. It also gave us a good look at it's air pouch which expands when calling, it doesn't open it's bill throughout the process and it seems to me that it must be the air forced out of the air pouch which creates the resonating sounds? It's no lifer but I still find it fascinating to watch.

Chinese Barbet- sequence showing deflated to inflated air pouch

Plain Flowerpeckers were again very vocal, but they didn't give good views today, a pair kept fighting over their territory above our heads though. This one was obviously feeding on nectar somewhere, as it's forehead was covered by pollens.

Plain Flowerpecker - this one is a messy eater

The hills were however very quiet. Except for a single Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo heard calling a few times, bird activities were not very visible. I only managed a shot of a Huet's Fulvetta and one of the many calling Mountain Tailorbird. Otherwise, the walk was pretty uneventful. This could be a result of most birds having paired up for breeding, they don't form as many feeding flocks now they have young birds to attend to.

Huet's Fulvetta

Mountain Tailorbird

We departed with Long Long after the walk at Tai Po Kau and headed to Mai Po. My father have yet to catch up with the long staying Franklin's Gull(s). So, my mission of the day was to find him a lifer on the Labour Day...When we arrived at Tam Kon Chau Road we spent some time watching the flock of congregating Whiskered Terns.

Whiskered Tern

Amongst the flock we counted only two White-winged Black Terns. Another species of Marsh Terns that is less common then Whiskered. I like their smart look; jet black underparts and head with contrasting wings, vent, rump and tail. Another smart looking species, plenty of Chinese Pond Herons have moulted into their breeding plumage, a huge difference between their dull winter plumage.

White-winged Black Tern

Chinese Pond Heron

We soon arrived at the new bird hide. Nothing were in sight, but I thought it was better to be waiting around then to miss the birds! Especially when I know the Franklin's Gull tend to take off sooner then expected. A family of Common Moorhen kept us entertained, the adults were feeding the fledgelings along the edge of the mangrove.

Common Moorhen - with two out of five chicks showing here

It was a very long wait, but my Father was not disappointed when I pointed out the pair of Franklin's for him in the scope, which made all the hours of waiting very well spent. Most of the time they remained quite far, but as the tide rose the pair of Franklin's followed the Black-headed Gulls and flew closer to our hide! For the first time, I was managed to catch on with many of the Gull's details and behaviour.

Franklin's Gull - inflight comparison with Black-headed Gulls

The pair stuck together throughout the whole time, they seems to enjoy each other's company. I guess you can't really be fussy if you're the only pair in the region. The pair were also quite tough, in that many Black-headed Gulls would harass them but the pair fought back on most occasions, even managed to scare some of the Black-headed Gulls off.

Franklin's Gull - a lot of bickering...

The pair were like carrots and peas, even when they do get separated they would call out for each other to find their way back to their mate. The pair exceeded all our expectations and really made our day. If the Franklin's Gulls were the cake, then the icing would be the pair of Chinese Egrets, this globally rare species is a passage migrant through Deep Bay, where it is regularly reported annually. Unfortunately the global trend of this rare Egret is still on decline, so seeing them still brings comforts for us to know that they are hanging on.

Franklin's Gull - it will be difficult to ask for a better view

Chinese Egret

On our way out, I spotted a flock of birds perched on the wires at Tam Kon Chau road, I immediately thought of Bee-eaters as their postures were very upright. I scanned with my bins to confirm my suspicion and sure enough, a flock of around 40 sat there on the wire, hawking for insects. And if the Chinese Egrets were the icing, these Bee-eaters will have to be the cherries on top! Blue-tailed Bee-eaters are regular but scarce passage migrants in Hong Kong, although we get them annually they are not always easy to come by, as they only pass through our airspace very briefly, stopping for insects shortly and move on. The peak of their migration should be over now, so I honestly thought I would miss this species this year, I am very glad to catch up with these colourful birds. We enjoyed some good views before they all decided they have had enough rest and headed off, leaving no trace of them ever having been there except our excitement.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater - my photographs only showing a small proportion of the flock...


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  2. Splendid selection from T P K and Mai Po.....and Bee-eaters will top off the best of days ...

    1. Indeed, it's been so long since I last saw Bee-eaters in Hong Kong, always an exciting species to look at!