Sunday, 30 October 2016

Vagrant From The West - Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gull - a rare vagrant to Hong Kong

News got around of a Slender-billed Gull present out at Deep Bay on Friday. This is a rare vagrant, with only a handful of records previously, I was extremely fortunate to have seen the last one back in 2008 also at Deep Bay during the Big Bird Race that year. Somehow, I never got around to take any photos of the bird at that time. So I've always been on the look out for another one to turn up someday, and upon hearing the news I thought it was best to head out as soon as I could. Although I had to work on Saturday, I didn't need to get back to office until noon, and checking the tide confirms that it was going to be an early tide with 1.95m at around 8am, which seems to give me enough time to look for the bird before work.

I woke up before 6am, it was still dark outside. I quickly got dressed and soon arriving at Mai Po just around 7am, I didn't stop to scan the flock of swifts or martins along the way as I didn't want to miss the tide. Straight out to the north hide I went! I made it just in time before the tide came in, plenty of birders were earlier then me. It wasn't long until someone spotted the gull far out on the mud flat. Being the only smallish gull out there it really stuck out like a sore thumb. We were hoping that it will come in with the tide, but after a few minutes the bird took to the air and we followed it until it went out of sight as it flew towards Tsim Bei Tsui.

"That was that!" I thought to myself, pretty convinced that it won't be hurrying back anytime soon. Never mind, plenty to look at out on the mud flat, including a few Far-Eastern Curlews. Wintering Black-faced Spoonbills had started to arrive, quite a few showing well.

Slender-billed Gull - far far away...

Far-Eastern Curlew

Black-faced Spoonbill

There wasn't that many waders around to look at, the Black-tailed Godwits were way out there. Mostly just common stuff like Greenshanks, Redshanks or Marsh Sandpipers. A pair of Temminck's Stints made an appearance shortly. There were plenty of Intermediate Egrets around, one with a muddy beak came close to the hide. Great Cormorants numbers had increased dramatically, and the numbers will continue to increase in the coming month. A few Collared Crows came closer to the hide and gave decent views, constantly cawing loudly.

Black-tailed Godwits

Temminck's Stint

Intermediate Egret

Great Cormorant

Collared Crow

There were only a few large gulls present, mainly the few over summering Mongolian Gulls. A single 1st winter gull stood out from the crowd, presumably a 1st winter Vega. We will have to wait a little longer until we get more wintering gulls, not a single Black-headed Gulls in sight was a bit surprising!

Mongolian Gull - paler on the head and chest is a feature even for immature birds

Vega Gull - a 1st winter bird

The tide was near 2m by 8am, many of the waders had settled and started roosting in the shallows. I was casually scanning towards the left of the bird hide when I noticed a smallish gull swimming towards us, the longish bill and pale eyes made it instantly recognisable. The Slender-billed had swam back! Rejoice for everyone! It later roosted with the Greenshanks, presumably because they were of similar size...the larger gulls didn't seem to like it and chased it away when the poor vagrant approached them. Slender-billed Gulls have a natural breeding range in the Mediterranean and winter south to northern Africa and India. Only very occasionally wandering far east to Japan and Thailand, this is only the 5th record in Hong Kong (I think).

Slender-billed Gull - good size comparison between the Greenshanks and Little Egret

The bird gave excellent views for the next hour, and entertained everyone with a variety of expressions and poses. A happy ending for me as I happily left the bird hide by 9:30am with a smile on my face and off to work. You can't get more efficient birding then this!

Slender-billed Gull - what more can you ask for from a lost bird

Monday, 24 October 2016

Wet afternoon at Long Valley

Eurasian Skylark - mission accomplished in a way.

After Typhoon Haima, a rare visitor in mid October visited us on Friday, weather was in fact quite fine the day after. Although I did have work to do on the Saturday, so I thought it was best that I can at least free up a Sunday afternoon to do some birding. Seeing that many have had some good birds at Long Valley including a group of Eurasian Skylarks which I have yet to photograph in Hong Kong.

I invited Yuen whom gladly joined me for a short visit to Long Valley even though he already went the day before. We met up at Sheung Shui and took the minibus to Yin Kong Village. The weather didn't look good however, radar image from Hong Kong Observatory showed a rain cloud forming over Sheung Shui; right on top of where we were. Just as we got off and thought we could just make it before the rain sets in, it chucked down hard on us, completely soaking us...We rushed to the rain shelter at Yin Kong entrance and waited for nearly an hour before it cleared up.

First birds up were a few Pacific Golden Plover on a half flooded field, quite a nice change to see them at Long Valley, I usually see most in Mai Po. Zitting Cisticolas had gained in numbers and is now everywhere, one of them posed nicely in a paddy for a well composed photo.

Pacific Golden Plover

Zitting Cisticola

We saw a few Yellow-breasted Buntings but they were all very skittish. A pair of Turtle Doves on the wire was a pleasant sight, the Oriental Turtle Dove on the left and Red Turtle Dove on the right, giving a very nice size comparison between the two species, shame the Spotted Dove to the far right did not want to join in the group photo. Near Ho Sheung Heung side Yuen spotted a Flycatcher, a quick look revealed a Grey-streaked Flycatcher, busy hawking for insects after the heavy rain. Nearby we saw a Pheasant-tailed Jacana but this one did not want to show and flew off the moment it saw us.

Oriental Turtle Dove & Red Turtle Dove

Grey-streaked Flycatcher

At the field that the Eurasian Skylarks had been reported we found three remaining, all looking rather shabby after the rain. They were not as confiding as they were a few days ago, I guess had become less so after filling up their bellies! But they gave some rather distant but decent views. We do get Oriental Skylarks in Hong Kong, but rarer. Main feature to separate the two seems to be primary projection, with Oriental's being shorter. Oriental's tail should be shorter in flight as well as rounder wings. Bill size is another feature that many seems to have talked about, Oriental's being slightly larger and thicker. But, Lark identification have never been an easy task, without direct comparison in the field it can get quite confusing...But looking at the primary projection on these birds I think it's safe to call them Eurasian.

Eurasian Skylark - this one was clearly as wet as we were after the rain.

Eurasian Skylark - primary projection quite clear on this photo.

The Black-headed Bunting flew away before we got a good look, at least we spotted it...A pair of Oriental Reed Warblers were shy but gave us a full view after some persuasion. We both waited until quite late, hoping for any Amur Falcons dropping luck on the day! Will have to try again later. We did however got a fly-by Cinnamon Bittern, this time I was able to snap a few shots before it disappeared into another field...really not a cooperative bird at all.

Oriental Reed Warbler

Cinnamon Bittern - when will you stop?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Greater White-fronted Geese - a single and a trio

Change of winds also marked some new birds arriving upon us, Thursday I received news of a few Greater White-fronted Geese had overshot their flight plan and landed at San Tin, an area with a lot of fish ponds near Mai Po, also another one reported inside Mai Po. As most Geese had a habit of disappearing the next day, I waited and received updates on Friday that it was seen back at San Tin in the evening, so I felt hopeful that they will still be there on Saturday. As our car had gone into service, Yuen offered to give me a lift to San Tin the next morning.

Greater White-fronted Geese

So, I met him on Saturday morning, constantly receiving news on the geese being very confiding and showing well. As we drove into San Tin, a text message from a friend informed me that the Geese had flown off towards Lok Ma Chau. Yuen cursed loudly, as he's not had much luck with the geese the day before and needed it for his Hong Kong list. We went along to the supposed location anyway, hoping that the geese may turn around and come back, but when we arrived the dried fish pond was all but empty. The only interesting bird we saw on another fish pond nearby was a lonesome Grey-headed Lapwing.

The reported fish pond...empty

Grey-headed Lapwing - this one had a strange leg

Seeing that there was nothing left at San Tin, we decided to move to Mai Po to try our luck there as there's been a report of a Cotton Pygmy Goose. Things were pretty quiet at first, we spotted a rather conspicuous Purple Heron which walked right out to the open. Our luck turned for the better when we spotted a single Greater White-fronted Goose at Scrape 16/17! The view was rather distant but Yuen got his tick and we stayed there to enjoy the bird for a short while. Also at the scrape, a lot of Intermediate Egrets were around, a few constantly fighting which was a good source of entertainment when nothing was showing.

Purple Heron

Greater White-fronted Goose - the lonesome juvenile at Mai Po

Intermediate Egret - fights can get rather fierce...

Just outside the Education Centre, an Oriental Reed Warbler provided some half decent views, it's the best view I got so far this year, most I've seen had been very shy. All Chinese Pond Herons had changed back to their winter uniform, a clear indication that summer is so definitely over, but the weather was telling a different was quite warm and was easily over 30 degrees when under the sun.

Oriental Reed Warbler

Chinese Pond Heron

At around 3:30pm we headed back towards San Tin, we heard the bird arrived at around 4pm the day before so we thought we should wait there to see if they roost back at the same location. A few small waders were feeding at the pond when we arrived, namely a few Temminck's Stints. We managed to spot a single Red-necked Stint along with them, which was a nice addition to our day.

Temminck's Stint

Red-necked Stint

We waited for a while, and right about 4:20pm we started to discuss about what time we had to leave! As Yuen had to be at a dinner gathering that night, and I myself had somewhere to go to as well, so we thought we should give it 10 more minutes. At just around 4:30pm, when we were seriously considering packing our stuff away, I spotted three dots in the sky flying towards us, I quickly scanned them with my binoculars and surely the geese arrived! Circling the fish pond for a short while giving us some cool flying views.

Greater White-fronted Geese - flew in from Lok Ma Chau

They soon landed, although the view was not particularly close comparing to those who were there this morning, the sight of these rare visitors were truly pleasant, what's more they totally amazed me at how bang on time they were! We only get a handful of geese every few years, so it's nice to have seen four of them on a single day in Hong Kong, turning this into quite a remarkable weekend, and turning Yuen's bad luck around!

Greater White-fronted Geese - they look to be in great shape, got a great appetite too.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Picking Up The Pace - Long Valley

After having a lie in on Monday morning during this public holiday, there isn't an excuse to refuse the opportunity provided by the glorious weather. So, my father and I headed out for an afternoon stroll around Long Valley. It was actually a bit hot when we arrived, and we took shelter in the shade of the Tofu factory for some time before heading out at 3pm.

Things started off pretty quietly, scanning for crakes and rails along the vegetation along a pool had me looking at a Pin-tailed Snipe, or less precise but in a more politically correct term a "Swintail Snipe". In general it is believed that field identification between Swinhoe's and Pin-tailed Snipes are near impossible, as measurements from trapped birds revealed that many previously assumed field identification were in fact bollocks...or in a more scientifically correct term; many features shows significant amount of overlapped between the two species. The only reliable way to identify the two species are by looking at their outer tail feathers, you can either see that when one is preening or when a snipe is about to land and fans it's tail out. Although this one remains inconclusive, I did managed to saw a TRUE Swinhoe's Snipe during this outing, as I managed to get a clear look at it's tail as it fanned out for landing. No photos though...maybe next time.

Some beginners finds it difficult to separate stationary snipes, especially to tell between Common and "Swintails", I included here an old photo I took of a Common Snipe for comparison between their upper parts plumage, notice the two thicker creamy coloured lines along the back of the Common.

"Swintail" Snipe - although I lean towards it being a Pin-tailed for this one...

Common Snipe - an old photo for comparison

Most of the paddies were still rather fresh, only one small field were beginning to ripen, Munias were feeding in there so we waited a little while to see if any Buntings would appear. Sure enough, a pair of Yellow-breasted Buntings landed into the middle of the paddy, giving a rather obscured view, but it's still nice to see this Long Valley regular back again. We waited a little longer hoping that perhaps the Black-headed Bunting that had been around would appear as well, but that one never materialised.

Turning the lovely golden colour...

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Eastern Yellow Wagtails numbers had started to pick up, there were quite a few feeding along the fields, all of them were taivana, here's one that was a bit more confiding, picking up what looked like a worm? Near another patch of paddies we also flushed a Cinnamon Bittern out, but unfortunately was not quick enough for a photo.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - taivana

I was scanning the Arrowhead field for Painted Snipes where I found two, when my attention was suddenly drawn to a small bird that flew out from cover and dropped back down some long grass. My initial thoughts was Bunting, so I sneaked up towards that patch of grass, only to find a small bird walking away from me, looking through my binoculars and it was pretty clear I was in fact looking at a Pechora Pipit, the diagnostic white stripes were very visible from that angle. The bird was flushed once again and landed on the footpath opposite to us, this time showing it's very white underparts. I managed a few quick shots of this smart looking bird before it flew off once again! What a flighty little thing! For the next half an hour we played hide and seek with the bird, only getting a few glimpses of the bird, never enough for a better shot. None the less, this find totally made my day!

Pechora Pipit - the only half decent record shot of this smart looking Pipit!

We also found quite a few newly arrived Red-throated Pipits for comparison. The much duller upper parts and buffish belly gives good comparison to the Pechora. They also behave very differently, where Pechoras are usually shy and prefer to land in well covered areas, Red-throated will nearly always give you a good view out in the open. Pechoras also seems to prefer damp patches of ground while Red-throated are OK with much drier fields. A good record for me anyway, as it's been a while since I last seen one at Long Valley!

Red-throated Pipit