Friday 30 September 2016

When September Ends

Last day of September had me finally able to take a day off work and do a bit of birding. Since I had a full day, I decided to go for a walk at Shek Kong Catchment first before heading to Long Valley to see what's new there. I haven't been to Shek Kong Catchment for a while, so it was really nice to finally visit again after a long summer. I was welcomed by a mixed feeding flock the moment I got off the car, a huge flock of small birds fluttered about near the tree tops, not making it easy for me to identify them.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatches were the easiest to pick out, their loud calls are hard to miss amongst the flock, a few came low enough for some decent shots to be taken. A few Yellow-cheeked Tits also fed amongst the flock, along with a large flock of Scarlet Minivets. I only found one White-bellied Epornis within the large flock of Japanese White-eyes. A few Warblers were also present, I picked up at least two Arctic Warblers and a few Yellow-browed Warblers, but a brighter looking one caught my eye so I took a few photographs, playback reveals it to be an Eastern Crowned Warbler, pale lower mandible, bright greenish upper parts, pale under parts and yellowish vents give it's identity away even without having to look at the crown stripe. A pair of Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes were also present but I couldn't manage any photographs. 

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Yellow-cheeked Tit

Scarlet Minivet - female

White-bellied Epornis

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Moving on, I found an Ashy Drongo perched on a tall bamboo further up the road, a closer look through my binoculars revealed that it was of the subspecies hopwoodi, I remember I found one of these pretty much at the same location last year, so maybe this was the same returning bird? Not too far ahead the flight of a Paradise Flycatcher caught my eye, it turned out to not be an Amur Paradise but a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, the first for me this season! You can tell it's a Japanese from the much duller head that lacks any glossy blue tint, the breast colour and the throat colour also show much less contrast compare to that of Amur Paradise, the back and tail looks a much duller brown then that of Amur as well. The bird did not stay long, so I only managed a rather poor record shot.

Ashy Drongo - hopwoodi

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - if only those branches weren't in the way...

Things quietened down a little afterwards, getting only the more common species including Cinerous Tits, Red-whiskered Bulbuls and a lot of Blue-winged Minlas. An interesting flock of nearly 20 Grey Treepies were a pleasant encounter, I rarely get a chance to photograph this species in Hong Kong, it's kind of weird how shy they are in Hong Kong while they have became an urban dweller just across the channel in Taiwan.

Cinerous Tit

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Blue-winged Minla

Grey Treepie

Returning Grey Wagtails had once again filled up the stream, you will hear their "pi-pit" call as they fly off along the stream, only to meet the same bird a bit further ahead. Seeing that there weren't much birds around I headed back to the car, on the way I heard the distinctive metallic call of the Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, it took me quite a while to locate the bird, it was however quite high up the tree so I only managed a record shot of it.

Grey Wagtail

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler

After Shek Kong Catchment I headed over to Long Valley. A White-breasted Waterhen welcomed me at the bridge crossing at Ho Sheung Heung. Black Drongos were everywhere today, many of them were juveniles, you can tell by their white vents. A slightly more interesting find, a juvenile male Red Turtle Dove gave me a good look, they can be easily recognised even in flight from the more common Spotted Dove by having a much shorter tail.

White-breasted Waterhen

Black Drongo - juvenile

Red Turtle Dove - juvenile male

Zitting Cisticolas have returned for the winter, I flushed quite a few of these while walking along the footpaths. Siberian Stonechats had also returned, both of these little birds bring back a lot of life back into Long Valley. A familiar call from a tree nearby had me looking up at a single Chinese Grosbeak, this must be amongst one of the earliest individual back this season, and I personally don't recall ever seeing one in September.

Zitting Cisticola

Siberian Stonechat

Chinese Grosbeak - must be my personal earliest record

I found a single Red-necked Phalarope on one of the ponds, this unfortunate individual however have a broken beak, the entire upper mandible was broken off and what was left of it's lower mandible was still attached...dangling off strangely. It wasn't a pretty sight, and I imagine it must painful for the bird as well...I couldn't see clearly whether the poor bird was feeding, but it seems likely that it will have difficult time finding any food with what was left of it's beak.

Red-necked Phalarope - ouch....

A few Oriental Reed Warblers were present but none of them gave me any decent looks, a more interesting migrant that did allow a better look was a single Brown Shrike. I saw it from afar at the beginning and Red-backed Shrike did flash up on top of my head, but a closer examination revealed that it was still just a juvenile Brown Shrike...still, better then no shrikes!

Brown Shrike

Last but not least, I went and looked for the Greater Painted Snipes near the Arrowhead fields, and sure enough I found a few lurking amongst the tall vegetation, skulking around in the most classic Painted Snipe fashion. As I walked a long the footpath, I accidentally flushed a pair out from their cover, the male flew all the way to another field and out of sight, the female however did something unexpected, it landed right on the shallow pond next to me, in the open! I was a bit slow to react to that, but soon had my camera facing the correct way and snapped away. What ever it was thinking, the female stood there for a good minute or so in full glory before flying off to join the male at the next field. I don't recall having ever seen a Greater Painted Snipe like this without being in a hide, I believe half of my friends would not even believe me if I told them I saw one out in the open like this, and thank goodness I got photographs to proof it!

Greater Painted Snipe - the usual obscured view...

Greater Painted Snipe - and a view and a half?

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Mid Autumn Birding

An extended weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival saw me finally getting some proper time off to do some birding. It's a good long weekend for many, crowds congregate at night to enjoy the full moon and show off their wide range of modern day lanterns which consists of cartoon characters or even those that flashes and "sings". The Friday after Mid-Autumn Festival was a public holiday, good time for my parents and I to spend some time at Mai Po.

It's my first visit since autumn started, and some returning birds were a good sign. A large flock of Garganey were an extremely pleasant sight to behold after months of absent of the ducks. The return of these dabbling ducks brought along an Eastern Marsh Harrier, another returning species that we should see plenty of throughout the winter. The flooded scrapes did not produce anything particularly interesting, mainly Black-tailed Godwits and other common waders.


Eastern Marsh Harrier

Black-tailed Godwit

Since we arrived quite late to Mai Po, we decided to catch the receding tide. The tide was still very high when we arrived at the gate, it even flooded the concrete footpath just behind the metal fence. The magical views of the flooded mangroves was amazing as always.

The flooded footpath, surely they should have made it higher when they built it...

Flooded mangrove forest

When we arrived at the bird hide, it was all about waiting. A single Terek Sandpiper was also waiting for the tide to subside enough before it can feed on the mudflats, mean while it seems to have found itself a comfortable bamboo to rest on. Weather was extremely pleasant and clear looking towards Shenzhen.

Terek Sandpiper

Deep Bay overlooking Shenzhen

The first birds to return as the tide gradually receded were Egrets, both Great and Little Egrets were actively hunting in the flooded grass to catch any small fish trapped amongst the thick vegetation. Black-winged Stilts also took advantage of their height to feed before other waders. Whimbrels were also amongst the first waders to arrive at the mudflat, however they were too early that many perched on the mangroves or even the roof of our bird hide to wait for the water to recede.

Little Egret

Great Egret

Black-winged Stilt

Whimbrel - first time I saw one perched on a tree

A few large gulls were present, although we get most gulls as winter visitors, some non-breeding birds had decided to stay through the summer, usually young birds. Here, I proposed both as Heuglin's Gulls, a third year and a second year bird. Although there's been some comments that the third year bird could be a Mongolian Gull due to the paler mantle and upper wings. However the overall size and shape for me did not quite match completely, plus in good light the legs looked to be changing colours to a more yellowish wash. I am open to suggestions though.

Heuglin's / Mongolian Gull - 3rd winter

Heuglin's Gull - 2nd winter

Most waders present were the common species, I did manage to spot a single Red-necked Stint, a Ruddy Turnstone, a few Far-Eastern Curlew plus a single Long-billed Dowitcher, but all of which were way too far out for any decent photos. Bar-tailed Godwits were in quite good numbers.

Common Redshank

Common Sandpiper


Bar-tailed Godwit

Greater Sand Plover

Mai Po was pretty quiet in terms of other migrants, no flycatchers or warblers were spotted on the day. A Common Kingfisher saw us out as we exit the reserve.

Common Kingfisher

Saturday morning saw me and Long hike up the steep tarmac road at Tai Po Kau. It was an extremely bright day, not a cloud in sight! The hills were overall extremely quiet even for resident species, we hardly encountered birds except for one remotely interesting bird wave which contained a single Amur Paradise Flycatcher and an Eastern Crowned Warbler. The only other interesting find were a few Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrushes amongst a flock of Greater necklaced, they seems to be getting increasingly common at Tai Po Kau, I only managed a record shot of it though. Even the usually noisy Chestnut Bulbuls were strangely quiet. An Arctic Warbler and Dark-sided Flycatcher at picnic area 1 provided the only photographic opportunity of the day. We both agreed that the weather was probably too good that many passing migrants simply passed through without stopping.

Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush - note the pale eyes

Arctic Warbler

Dark-sided Flycatcher

We both decided to give Tai Po Kau a second run on Tuesday. It was a wet morning, with rain quite heavy at times. Things were a bit quiet going up, a single Hong Kong Newt found by the road side kept things interesting.

Hong Kong Newt

The Striated Heron was present at the stream near picnic area 1, a usual spot for this species. Although a common species in Hong Kong, they are not always easy to see due to their secretive nature.

Striated Heron

There were not that many birds around, bird waves were few and far between. We managed to spot another Amur Paradise Flycatcher but again no luck with any photographs. The Dark-sided Flycatcher and the Arctic Warbler were still at the same area, they looked to be the same birds by the look of their feathers. A few Pygmy Wren Babblers gave half decent views by the footpaths, all of them being a little bit shy.

Pygmy Wren Babbler

The best bird of the morning came in form of a single Orange-headed Thrush. It was right on the path just past picnic area 3, foraging in the leaf litter at first. It was a little misty so I only managed some record shots at first, but the bird later flew up to a branch just a few meters away from us, giving excellent views for the next few minutes! Although this species is very widespread in Hong Kong, seeing them still requires plenty of luck, and to see one in full view at close range is always a treat. Tai Po Kau is probably one of the best places to look for this species in Hong Kong, but they have also been recorded in many places including urban parks.

Orange-headed Thrush

On our way back to the car park, a flock of Black-throated Laughingthrushes awaits. They showed quite well today, including a few Lugens morph which I unfortunately could not get any photographs of. Autumn passage is already half gone, hopefully I will have more time in the coming weeks...Time is something we never seem to have enough of!

Black-throated Laughingthrush