Monday, 12 December 2016

Birding Weekend With An Old Friend

Little Bunting - One of John's lifers on this trip

It's always wonderful to have birding friends from abroad visiting Hong Kong, I love showing them places I usually go birding and to exchange birding experiences of different birds in another country. John Hansford had been a personal friend for 10 years, he had been extremely kind and showed me some of the best birds on his local patch back in Somerset when I was studying there, including Bramblings, Dippers and Northern Goshawks! He visited Hong Kong in 2014 for a business trip, and he is back this time for a short stopover before heading to China. So, naturally we got together for a birding weekend around Hong Kong!

After picking John up at 6:30am, we began our first day at Lok Ma Chau in perfect weather. Our first birds were a flock of starlings, mainly White-cheeked Starlings which John had missed on his last visit. A bit of excitement when John suddenly spotted a huge raptor that came our way in form of an adult Imperial Eagle! Giving us close fly-by view before disappearing behind the ridge! Further up the road another raptor was spotted, this time a perched Eastern Buzzard, they look much lighter then the Buzzards in the UK according to John. Later on we even had a Greater Spotted Eagle perched on a distant tree, really not a bad morning for raptors. We got some other common birds at Lok Ma Chau to warm things up for John and allow him to get use to our usual birds.

White-cheeked Starling

Imperial Eagle

Eastern Buzzard 

Greater Spotted Eagle

We headed over to Tai Sang Wai next, things were quiet and we mainly just had a few pipits and wagtails, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail provided confiding views in the car. Otherwise it was a little disappointing, so we decided to go get a big breakfast at San Tin before we head into Mai Po, at the car park outside the restaurant we picked up Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker.

Eastern  Yellow Wagtail - subspecies taivana

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker

Heading into Mai Po I heard a strange but familiar call as we drove along, I stopped the car and soon picked up a dark bird singing on a roadside tree which turned out to be a Hill Myna! I have woke up to their calls on my trip to Sepilok, which explained why it sounded so familiar. This is likely an escaped, although it was still a nice experience seeing it outside. John got his permit at the WWF office and we headed into the reserve, on the way picking up a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike at the Mai Po carpark, one of John's target bird! Further along we also got a handsome and confiding male Daurian Redstart. Cormorants now filled up every tree.

Hill Myna - singing it's heart out to a mate that probably won't hear it...

Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike - Another one of John's target bird

Daurian Redstart - male

Great Cormorant - wintering flocks have now taken over the trees at Mai Po

Right outside the AFCD warden's post were a flock of Black-faced Spoonbills, one of the main target at Mai Po, a few of them flew past and gave some amazing fly-by views at close range! A flock of confiding Pintails were our first ducks of the day. Along the concrete path we also added a few Black-faced Bunting, the female gave particularly great views.

Black-faced Spoonbill - one of the many present near the AFCD warden's post

Northern Pintail

Black-faced Bunting - one of the female which showed well

The Education Centre provided a great washroom stop, but it's also the best location to look for Yellow Bitterns, where we found two in total. Moving on, a Siberian Stonechat gave good views along the footpath on one side, and a Cormorant roost on the other side of the path allowed extremely close views to our roosting Great Cormorants, so close that you can smell them!

Yellow Bittern - took a little while to find this one...

Siberian Stonechat

Great Cormorant - close encounter with them is a must at Mai Po

 A few of the resident Water Buffalos were quite fun to watch, a sight that is increasingly rare in New Territories, these were kept and managed by the WWF, they are in fact very beneficial in helping to turn the soil, which will in turn attract more birds. Further along we spotted a Greater Spotted Eagle, which provided some decent views, it was later harassed by a few Black Kites and chased away.

Water Buffalos

Greater Spotted Eagle - the local Black Kites were not exactly friendly...

We arrived at pond #22, I immediately spotted the adult Siberian Crane foraging along the reeds. The adult had stayed on and have been present for over a week! We were both relieved to find the crane still here after it gone missing the day before. John was so lucky that it stayed long enough for him, and was so pleased to have seen it after I sent him some photos only a week earlier! Despite this being my third visit to the bird within one week, it felt extremely special and privileged to be able to see this amazing and rare bird in the wild. The crane provided some awesome views for up to an hour, it was very active and was constantly eating. Just past noon, the crane rested and preened itself for a little bit and suddenly took off, it didn't go high and flew south west, the adult seems to have developed this habit of going from pond #22 at Mai Po to an unknown location during the day. It was spotted again the day after, hopefully it will stay all winter.

Siberian Crane

Siberian Crane - flying away somewhere we do not know, Shenzhen in the background

After the amazing encounter with the crane, we picked up an extremely confiding Long-tailed Shrike; one of John's favourite bird in Hong Kong, this time allowing him to get some good photos under quite good lighting. Another Eastern Buzzard soared above us as we made our way into the board walk. A small patch of Shepherd's Needles near the entrance provided some good butterfly watching, the best one there was probably a Chocolate Royal.

Long-tailed Shrike - a very friendly one at Mai Po

Eastern Buzzard

Chocolate Royal - Remelana jangala

We arrived at the new hide quite early, the tide was not particularly good today but we headed out to look for the Black-capped Kingfisher John missed last time. The Kingfisher was much more cooperative this time, and we were watching it just 10 minutes after we arrived. There weren't that many waders on the mudflat, just a few Eurasian Curlews, Grey Plovers, Greenshanks and Kentish Plovers. We spotted a few Saunder's Gull in the distance, but all else were simply too far even for my scope. An Eastern Marsh Harrier flew past the hide quite far away, only a few Chinese Pond Herons provided close views. At around 3:30pm we decided to head back out to look for some other birds, on our way out we had an extremely confiding Great Egret, which provided some good chance for some extremely closeup shots.

Black-capped Kingfisher - personal all time favourite bird in Hong Kong

Kentish Plover - one of the very few waders that decided to come close to the hide

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Chinese Pond Heron

Great Egret

We decided to head back out to the car park along the metal fenced road, flocks of Tufted Ducks had us scanning for any other diving ducks, we found none. Yet another Eastern Marsh Harrier drifted past, and a Pied Kingfisher provided some good hovering views. Further along John spotted a Purple Heron, perched on the same tree with a Grey Heron, which provided an interesting comparison between the two species. At a spoonbill roost we scanned for any Eurasian Spoonbill and surely found one within the Black-faced, they are usually quite easy to pick out even without seeing it's beak, as they are slightly larger and usually look quite "dirty".

Tufted Duck

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Pied Kingfisher - displaying it's party trick

Grey Heron & Purple Heron - cousins

Eurasian Spoonbill with Black-faced Spoonbill - spot the difference

We finally headed to Tun Yu Road that is close to the Lok Ma Chau MTR station where the drainage ditch can usually hold a good numbers of waders. And surely, we found a wide range of birds, including a lot of Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Marsh Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers, Teals and Common Snipes. The sunset view over looking the skyscrapers at Shenzhen ended our first day.

Seems to be a popular drainage ditch amongst birds

Black-winged Stilt

Marsh Sandpipers

The next morning I picked John up again at 6:30am, we headed to Tai Po Kau to look for some forest birds. Forest birding can be tough, and requires a lot more luck. The first bird that we got was a Fire-breasted Flowerpecker singing high up on the mistletoe infested maple tree, a lifer for John. We encountered a small bird wave near mid way of the access road, but most birds were quite high up, only bird that we had half decent view were a few Yellow-cheeked Tits. We did managed a pair of Orange-bellied Leafbirds very high up, which imitated the call of a Besra. At picnic area 1 we picked up a female Red-flanked Bluetail.

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - female looks much more buffish then Scarlet-backed

Yellow-cheeked Tit

Red-flanked Bluetail - female

Things were pretty quiet in the forest, we did encounter a few bird waves which gave us some decent views to some of Tai Po Kau's key species. White-bellied Epornis showed very well, allowing very close views. Chestnut Bulbuls were constantly in the background. The minivets are always the star of the show, Grey-chinned Minivets were particularly confiding today, occasionally coming within a few meters to us! Scarlet Minivets also showed well. The main staple of Silver-eared Mesias and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch kept us busy. An interesting find by John was a single Red Muntjac that gave a brief view at picnic area 2, although I didn't manage a photo it was still exciting to see such beautiful animal in it's natural habitat.

White-bellied Epornis

Chestnut Bulbul

Grey-chinned Minivet - male and female

Scarlet Minivet - male and female

Silver-eared Mesia

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

A Goodson's Leaf Warbler were the only interesting warbler within the flock, it foraged in it's unique nuthatch manner. There were a lot of Pallas's Leaf Warblers as well as Yellow-browed Warblers. Fork-tailed Sunbirds also joined in the flock, I only managed a photo of the female present. Grey-headed Flycatchers were very vocal, but remained quite high up, I only managed a record shot from below. There were quite a lot of Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes, we saw a total of at least 6 birds, a female showed particularly well.

Goodson's Leaf Warbler

Pallas's Leaf Warbler

Fork-tailed Sunbird - female

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike - female with the barred underparts

The best bird came in form of a dark morph Oriental Honey Buzzard that drifted past briefly, too quick for me to get a photo of, but we had a pretty good view of the bird, simply glad to have seen it! We visited the Tai Po Kau park opposite the main road when we got back down to the car park. There wasn't much on show there but we added a handsome male Grey-backed Thrush which showed well.

Grey-backed Thrush - male

We headed to Shek Kong Airfield Road next, things started off quite slow, an ocularis White Wagtail was present, along with a Grey Wagtail and a few other leucopsis White Wagtails. Paced picked up slightly after a few Taiga Flycatcher, when I found a male with remnant of red feathers on it's chin, not something you see very often in Hong Kong. A single female Chinese Grosbeak was seen, but giving very obscured views. As we drove off I heard some weird noises coming from the trees, I stopped the car and we were soon looking at a flock of 9 Red-billed Blue Magpies at close range! A very common bird in Hong Kong, but not always one that you can see up close, they gave absolutely amazing views for up to a few minutes before disappearing again across to the other side of the gully.

White Wagtail - ocularis

Red-throated Flycatcher - a male with tiny bits of red still on the throat

Chinese Grosbeak - female

Red-billed Blue Magpie - the magnificent!

Long Valley was up next. We got a friendly welcoming by the Avocets. A few ducks were present including Northern Shovelers, ducks seems to have became a regular fixture now at Long Valley during winter. A first winter macroynx Eastern Yellow Wagtail showed well on a nearby pond. 

Pied Avocet

Northern Shoveler with Chinese Pond Heron in the background

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - macroynx first winter

At the paddies, a confiding Little Bunting gave great views, we finally got a good look after only short moments of encounter at Mai Po. We only received brief views of a single Yellow-breasted Bunting which flew out from the field. A Chestnut-eared Bunting however was much more obliging, and perched on top of a tree for clear views.

Little Bunting - a very confiding one

Chestnut-eared Bunting

A few extremely confiding Cattle Egrets were casually strolling the fields pecking at insects. A few Black-browed Reed Warblers gave only brief glimpses, but good enough for a positive ID. The Greater Painted Snipes were at right where I expected them to be, they gave relatively good views by Painted Snipe standard. The only other more interesting species I managed to find were a pair of Buff-bellied Pipits. Otherwise, we got mainly common birds. Large flocks of Silky Starlings congregated at the end of the day, I scanned for Common Starlings or any other Starlings but couldn't find any. Our day ended under a wonderful sunset overlooking the paddies to complete the Long Valley birding experience.

Cattle Egrets

Greater Painted Snipe

Buff-bellied Pipit

Silky Starlings

Sunset at Long Valley

On the two full days of quite casual birding we managed 132 species in total, quite a few memorable ones including the Siberian Crane and the Oriental Honey Buzzards. It's a perfect testimony of how rich our avifauna is and the wide range of habitat easily accessible. It does make me appreciate what we have here a lot more.


  1. Sounds like two great days of winter HK birding - nice to re-live the experience here.

    1. Thanks John, what's best is that I had such a great time myself! Not often I get to bird for two straight full days nowadays.

  2. It truly was two amazing days for me some 6,000 miles from my local patch. I cannot thank you enough. Best Wishes, John