Friday 11 November 2016

It's Amour! - Amur Falcons and a bit more

"What did you saw today?" My Father casually asked me while he was taking off his shoes as he arrived home. I didn't say a word, but grinned from ear to ear. I think at the moment he knew what I saw.

Amur Falcon - adult male

My day started early at Tai Sang Wai, it was quite a chilly day and I was hoping to catch a few Amur Falcons waking up. The road into the fish ponds were forever bumpy, I stopped at a fish pond with a lot of hawking hirundines. A falcon caught my eye, and I thought that was it! And looking through my bins had me cursing loudly...yet another Kestrel! I later saw the same bird on the way out and it raised my hopes up again...fooled me once shame on you, fooled me twice shame on me...

Eurasian Kestrel - male

It was too early to work my heavy lens to take any flying shots of the many hirundines present, but I found a rope where they were roosting so I settled with that instead. Barn Swallows were obviously the most common one. Red-rumped Swallows were in good numbers as well. A few Pale Martins also joined in, but only a few out of over a hundred birds perched with the other swallows. I failed to locate any Northern House Martins that John Holmes reported the day before, but there were quite a few Asian House Martins present.

Barn Swallow

Red-rumped Swallow

Pale Martin & Barn Swallows

Commoner birds such as White-breasted Waterhen were actively doing their favourite activity; road crossing. A confiding Richard's Pipit posed well for a decent photo.

White-breasted Waterhen

Richard's Pipit

Tai Sang Wai was not producing anything new, so I decided to move on and headed to Lok Ma Chau. The lily pond where I saw the Pheasant-tailed Jacana had been dug up. Bad news for the Jacanas and Watercocks but good news for the Egrets, a few dozens congregated there. All of our common egrets were there, which yielded a shot with Little, Intermediate and Great Egret standing together. With this many egrets congregating there were bound to be some arguments, two Intermediate Egrets got into a proper fight, the loser was easy enough to identify. To my surprise, three Black-faced Spoonbills landed and roosted with the egrets, one of them was clearly a young bird, probably a first year?

One shot with three egret species - Intermediate, Little and Great

Intermediate Egret - fights can get quite messy...

A young Black-faced Spoonbill amongst Little Egrets

There wasn't a lot of birds at Lok Ma Chau, I saw a single Lesser Coucal as well as a few Blue Magpies but none of them stayed long enough for a photo. A large bird perched on a telephone pole caught my attention, a quick look revealed it to be a Crested Serpent Eagle! Although not rare, to see one perched at close range is still not an everyday thing! I enjoyed excellent view for the next 10 minutes or so, really appreciating it's majestic stance. On my way out I saw another juvenile circling above, which didn't look like the same bird.

Crested Serpent Eagle - majestically perched

Crested Serpent Eagle - juvenile in flight

Long Valley was up next. Teals were in good numbers, all the males are in eclipse at the moment. There were quite a lot of Yellow-breasted Buntings, but again they were quite shy. The mythical Black-headed Buntings were again a no show for me. Tree Sparrows were in good numbers as well, but I couldn't locate any other sparrows amongst the flocks. I spotted a single Eurasian Skylark which fed quietly and nearly avoided any kind of attention.

Eurasian Teal

Tree Sparrow

Eurasian Skylark

Right at where I was watching the skylark, I spotted four falcons circling high above. They were surely Amur Falcons, they were miles off but still managed to pick up the diagnostic features of pale underwings and darker trailing tertiaries. I was happy to have spotted them but was feeling kind of unsatisfied with such distant views.

Amur Falcons - passing through high up

The other bird that I couldn't get any satisfied views or photos of were the many Black-browed Reed Warblers that skulked the tall grass. I knew how many were in there by their calls, you see glimpses of fleeting views of a part of the bird every so often, but you can never see the whole bird. After at least thirty minutes of trying I at least managed a record shot of one. I bumped into Yuen at Long Valley and chatted with him shortly, congratulating him of his amazing juvenile Amur Falcon shots the day before, those made me real envious! A single Red-rumped Swallow perched on the wire saw me off. While I was having lunch I also bumped into David Chan while eating lunch at the Tofu factory, whom also managed to catch up with the high flying Amurs.

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Red-rumped Swallow

For the afternoon, I spent a good few hours guiding a large group from two primary schools to Shek Kong Airfield Road. Unfortunately there wasn't much seen during the tour, possibly because there were too many students at one time, but in general the birds (especially common ones) did not want to show! This was however made up for with a few Amur Falcons drifting pass, which allowed me to share with them the stories of their amazing migration route from North East China all the way to South Africa. So, all in all it wasn't too bad.

Observing an Amur Falcon with the birding group

It was already 4:15pm when the tour was over. The remaining day light should not be wasted! So, I decided to try my luck at Wo Sang Wai, the flat area with fish ponds and many overhead wires provides a great roosting spots for Amur Falcons, or so I hoped...I arrived at around 5:00pm, and scanned the wires and sky constantly, but had little luck at first.

By 5:15pm it was getting darker, so I thought my luck had ran out and was ready to leave, when I suddenly spotted a falcon flying towards me! I quickly got out of my car but the falcon never stopped, I saw it landed too far away for any real chance to relocate it. Just as I groaned and thought I blew my only chance, I spotted a silhouette of a bird smaller then a dove perched on an overhead wire nearby. An Amur Falcon indeed! I got even more excited when I saw that it was an adult male!

Amur Falcon - looking rather tired out when it first landed

Completely overjoyed I quickly got back in the car and snuck up to the bird, it was probably too tired to care for a crazy guy snapping away his camera at it. I enjoyed excellent close-up views for up to 10 minutes before it finally had enough of me and flew to a wire a little further away. A dream come true for me that at last I had one sitting on the wire!

the red bill and feet showing well at close range

As I left, I looked at this little raptor one last time, simply amazing to think that this little fella is able to fly all the way to South Africa on it's own and back every single year of it's life. What an incredible journey that must be and that it had probably seen way more in a single journey then I possibly would in my entire life time. I was suddenly more envious of the bird itself.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Long Valley's Hot Streak - not for me...

Long Valley had been on a hot streak lately and getting quite a lot of attention, partly because of an increase of Bunting species and numbers, and a Bailon's Crake had taken up resident at one of the pond, but also because a good numbers of raptors had been passing through...namely Amur Falcons. I finally ticked them off my Hong Kong list last year, but they are still very exciting birds to see when given the chance, and I haven't got one yet so far.

Bailon's Crake - a regular but not a common sight at Long Valley

The afternoon started with a falcon, but unfortunately not an Amur, but a male Eurasian Kestrel, which glided along the hot air current. The mid-day sun surely gave the raptors a good lift. There were also quite a few Eastern Buzzards around, few of them circling low and gave good views. I counted a total of at least 15 on the day.

Eurasian Kestrel - male

Eastern Buzzard - one of the many seen on the day

A few dabbling ducks were present, mainly Eurasian Teals, but also a few Northern Shovelers, here showing an eclipse male.

Eurasian Teal

Northern Shoveler - eclipse male

A familiar buzzing sound had me turning my attention towards a small bird perched on the wire, surely a Taiga Flycatcher, many of them had just arrived not too long ago and will stay for the winter.

Taiga Flycatcher

I got to the Bailon's Crake site where a few photographers and birders were already watching the small bird sneaking around the edge of the pond. It was not a particularly showy bird, but not particularly shy either, coming in and out of the cover and occasionally showing out in the open, it was however a little far for cameras to get any proper good photo, I did managed a few good record shots of this one. A nice species to see as usual anyway.

Bailon's Crake

On a pond nearby an Intermediate Egret was foraging amongst the flooded water spinach field, a smart looking one, showing all of it's diagnostic features including the sometime subtle black bill tip. White Wagtails were in good numbers, one I thought looked a bit weird, somehow looked like the subspecies baicalensis, but after consulting with other birders it seems likely its just a first winter leucopus. Plenty of Siberian Stonechats now, many of them quite confiding.

Intermediate Egret

White Wagtail - leucopus

Siberian Stonechat

I failed to spot any Buff-bellied Pipits, but got a few Red-throated Pipits and Richard's Pipit. The Richard's Pipit in particular gave close views. Even allowing me to observe it's elongated hind claws which are usually out of sight. Dusky Warblers were in extremely good numbers, you would be lucky not to flush a few on every corner that you turn, but as usual they were quite camera shy, I found only one that was willing to stop long enough for a photo.

Red-throated Pipit

Richard's Pipit

Dusky Warbler

I kept looking upwards to scan the sky for any raptors, at one point I saw a few House Martin type birds, but they were way too high to be positively identified as to which species, so I would go for the more common Asian House. A falcon soaring above caught my eye, but the tail looked too short for Amur, turned out it was an Eurasian Hobby, not a bad record but not the one I was hoping for...Later a Besra also came into view, and so did a Japanese Sparrowhawk, but the later too quick for me to get any photo.

Eurasian Hobby - not quite the falcon I was looking for...


There were supposed to be a pair of Black-headed Buntings around but they didn't show for me despite much effort. There were plenty of Yellow-breasted Buntings though, but only one allowed relatively good views. A pleasant sight to see them in quite good numbers anyway, and one that will hopefully last. Let's hope the killing and hunting of this species can stop in China.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Finally, a single female Daurian Redstart at the end of the day tells me that winter is indeed among us. Indeed, temperature is scheduled to drop these few days, and I wonder what that will bring us in the coming week...

Daurian Redstart - our winter robin