Thursday, 9 June 2016

Cuckoo Frenzy on Tai Mo Shan!

I have been hooked to Tai Mo Shan this summer, partly because it's really not that far away from where I live, also the fact that it's a few degrees cooler then the rest of the city which makes this place a perfect summer getaway. Breeding birds here are also very interesting, you see a lot of juveniles of various species at this time of the year, most of all I find the place full of surprises. Dragon Boat Festival saw me up at 6am, I looked out the window and saw clear sky. I got to Tai Mo Shan car park by 6:40am, and the car park was already full! In fact, people were on their way down as I went up, they must've hiked to the summit last night for the sunrise.

First birds were a pair of Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, surprisingly these were the first I have seen this year! I haven't had much luck with them this year and was glad to have caught up with this pair. Although it was a classic "hide and seek" with them, as always they are very responsive to my imitation, but they will never perch without something blocking in front! These two obscured shots were the best I could get out of the pair. They are impressive looking bird when seen up close, very large and very noisy.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo - always behind branches...

The walk up the tarmac road was pretty uneventful, although I heard a Lesser Cuckoo calling near the car park, it didn't show. A Crested Serpent Eagle circled at a distance in the morning sun. Once I got to the "usual" spot, a pair of Chinese Francolins were calling and a quick scan on the horizon revealed it's perch, it wasn't particularly close but I was glad to have gotten some better shots then last time. Another Francolin was calling further down the slope, I located the bird but it was much further away.

Crested Serpent Eagle

Chinese Francolin - their white dots do resembles Guineafowls

I listened out for Chinese Grassbird and the Parrotbill but none called. I was surprise that no Parrotbills were present, considering how common they were the last two times I visited. As always, there are no guarantee in birding. Although very quiet, the area was occupied by a family of Mountain Tailorbirds, two adults were attending to a juvenile, they kept foraging on a single tree so I took some time observing, and resulted in some decent photographs of this species. The juvenile look similar to the adult but lack the "golden cap" and grey neck, although they both have bright yellow underparts.

Mountain Tailorbird - adult and juvenile

Seeing that not that many birds were around, I continued upwards through the winding road. This stretch of road is arguably one of the most scenic in Hong Kong, hence it is popular with cyclists and hikers, as you walk around the summit you will get a near panorama view of the city below, on a fine and clear day like this views can be breathtaking. Past the radar station a few Brown-flanked Bush Warblers showed well, singing out in the open!

Spectacular views up winding roads

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler

Also past the radar station just at the fence above the abandoned barracks, three Russet Bush Warblers were heard calling, with a little bit of patience, they do pop out from their cover to sing on an open perch. The views today were much better then those I had last time, at close range you can just make out the delicate streaks on the breast. It seems to be the right time to look for this highly secretive species, the three warblers present were calling constantly to each other and kept coming in and out of their cover. Their latin name of it's genus Locustella pretty much sums up the impression of this species, it acts and sounds much like a locust or insect.

Russet Bush Warbler - good time to visit this skulking species

As I headed back down, heavy mist and light rain started to set in. There wasn't much to see on the way, only a pair of Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers made an appearance. Lesser Cuckoos were again calling from various locations but I simply could not locate them!

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler - this one lacking a tail

When I got back to the carpark, I heard another Lesser Cuckoo calling from the valley next to the carpark, I scanned the hills and listened out to the calls to try and figure out it's location when suddenly I saw a small grey dot on a tree at the opposite side of the valley. I took a photograph and confirms the dot as a Lesser Cuckoo! Although it was very far away, I was still glad to get this species onto my Hong Kong list finally. Lesser Cuckoos are still considered quite rare in Hong Kong, but we have been getting regular summer records in recent years. The successful colonisation of Brown-flanked Bush Warblers may have aided this increase in records, as they are a known host for the Lesser Cuckoo. I heard a total of three birds and saw one today, not a bad result and a perfect way to end a day that started also with a cuckoo.

Lesser Cuckoo - a distant view of this small cuckoo