Sunday 31 December 2017

The Last Push

Slaty-backed Forktail - last addition to my year list

I was looking through my 2017 bird record near the end of December and I couldn't help noticing how enticingly close my year list is to 300 species. I've never gotten past 300 species in a year before, so this became a little goal to aim for during the last month of 2017. A few days before the new year and when I recounted my records I noticed I was up to 304 species, naturally I would love to squeeze out what is left in the year.

The most obvious target of mine was the Chestnut-crowned Warbler at Lung Fu Shan which I have already missed on two occasions. I was determined to nail this bird, and after some encouragement from fellow birders I gave this bird a third try. It was third time lucky, as I located the bird by it's faint high pitched call, and soon found it feeding amongst a few Pallas's Leaf Warblers, it's bright yellow underside and greyish throat and breast was pretty unmistakable. The bird later came down to eye-levels and gave some really good views! Therefore completing my Lung Fu Shan duo of both Small Niltava and Chestnut-crowned Warbler. So that was my 305th species.

Chestnut-crowned Warbler - third time lucky!

On the 30th I decided to add one last species onto my year list, a Slaty-backed Forktail that had been around the stream next to picnic area 7 at Shing Mun Reservoir and was my best bet for adding one last species. I arrived quite early that morning, on the way picking up a bird wave with a single male Verditer Flycatcher as highlight. I also encountered a large flock of Indochinese Yuhinas which gave close views.

Verditer Flycatcher - male

Indochinese Yuhina

The walk to picnic area 7 took nearly 40 minutes, there was no sight of the Forktail when I arrived, so I sat down and waited. It wasn't until 9:30am that the Forktail finally showed itself, as it flew in and foraged along the tree trunks and rocks for a few minutes before flying off once again. It was a long time ago since I last saw one in Hong Kong, back when one regularly visited the stream at Tai Po Kau. Although I see this species a lot in Guangdong in similar habitats, they have never took off in Hong Kong somehow and remains to be a rare occasional visitor. Why that is we may never know, but I certainly hope we get them in Hong Kong more regularly, as they are awesome looking birds, and very happy to get it as my 306th species of the year.

Slaty-backed Forktail - mysteriously rare in Hong Kong

My last day of the year was spent at Long Ke Wan, I was doing a nature tour as part of an land art camp organised by Art Together. The camp allowed participants to experience and create art in nature, there was a kite making session with natural materials which everyone enjoyed immensely. The area around Long Ke Wan is extremely scenic, situated within the Hong Kong Geopark, it is certainly one of the most beautiful places in Hong Kong. We even hiked up the hill to look at the first sunrise of 2018 to start off the year!

Kites made with found twigs

Feral Cattles are commonly found around Hong Kong's country parks

Beautiful area around Long Ke Wan

1st Sunrise of 2018

The area is not a birding hotspot, as it's surrounded by mainly scrubland, I heard a few Brown-flanked Bush Warblers and Russet Bush Warblers around the surrounding hills. A very friendly Blue Rock Thrush of the race pandoo was one of the better birds I found in the area, I usually see race philippensis, pandoo seems to be far less common in Hong Kong.

Blue Rock Thrush - male ssp. pandoo

For the nature tour, I took the participants on a short walk around the camp site, looking for birds and other interesting creatures around us. We were very fortunate to get a very cooperative Common Kingfisher which fished in the small lagoon, everyone gave a lot of "oooo's" and "ahhh's" when it dived for fish right in front of us. The most impressive bird though was probably a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles duetting loudly on the surrounding hills, a species that I find to be the most impressive looking bird of prey in Hong Kong. They are most likely a pair breeding in the area, although I am not sure whether they have a nest yet or simply trying to find a suitable place to build one. Either way they certainly impressed the participants as much as they impressed me.

Looking at the Common Kingfisher

White-bellied Sea Eagle - a beautiful pair

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Christmas Blues

As we are getting nearer to the end of the year, I was hoping to push my year list as close as 300 species as possible, although having missed a few rarities I doubt my final list will surpass that, it's still fun to just give it a try though. Seeing that there had been reports of a male Small Niltava plus a Chestnut-crowned Warbler at Lung Fu Shan which could add two more birds on my year list, I decided to give it a go. The afternoon before Christmas Eve was pretty quiet up there, only a few other birders were around, although everyone didn't have much luck with neither species. After everyone had gone, I took a stroll nearby, there weren't too much to see, but a flock of Red-billed Blue Magpies at close range kept me entertained, I can never get bored of them.

Lung Fu Shan is also quite good for mammals, and a large flock of Wild Boars was certainly a sight to behold...with their numbers really booming, no wonder they now frequently wander into the city. Blue Whistling Thrush was spotted nearby.

At around 4:15pm, when every single birder had left, I heard the song of the Small Niltava, a series of high pitched notes gave away it's location. I searched for the source of the song and sure enough it was perched on an open branch, singing away! I managed to find an opening amongst the thick foliage, the bird gave me about a minute of excellent views before melting away back into the dense cover. I was very fortunate to have such great views of the Niltava, although the Chestnut-crowned Warbler never showed itself...

I tried again on Christmas day morning for the warbler but it was yet another no show, so I decided to head over to Shek Kong Airfield around noon to look for other birds. Unfortunately there weren't much to be discovered there, all except a female Black-naped Monarch was worthy of note. It did however gave great eye-level views though, not complaining about that! A Chinese Blackbird which perched at close range was remotely interesting, being such a skittish species I would have expect it to have flown away straight after it saw me!

I visited Tai Po Kau on boxing day after my failed attempt for the Chestnut-crowned Warbler. It wasn't particularly exciting to start off with, the common species such as Silver-eared Mesias brought a splash of colours. Most of the usuals were present, but none of them were particularly photogenic, except for a curious White-bellied Epornis. One of my best find of the morning was a White-spectacled Warbler, it was a brief view, but it gave me just enough time to grab a record shot, it's broken eye-ring can be clearly seen. I also saw a Chestnut-flanked White-eye, but it was way too quick for my camera.

Only a few days left in 2017, I am at 304 (I recounted my records), wouldn't mind adding a few more birds...

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Bride's Pool Delights

Crested Kingfisher - One of the best bird on offer at Bride's Pool at the moment

A great day at Bride's Pool earlier this month urged me for more visits, this area can be quite good during winter months, you may also yield some surprising birds occasionally. It is relatively difficult to get to without a car, so it's usually quiet during early mornings, while weekends can be slightly crowded with hikers and people firing up the barbecues. I usually starts by descending on the long steps down to the main barbecue site, often there will be a large bird wave passing through. I was fortunate enough to encounter the pair of Verditer Flycatchers at close range, which landed me the shot that I've always wanted! They are truly stunning birds and their turquoise blue is unmistakable.

Verditer Flycatcher - male, pleasing to the eye front or back!

There were also two Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers amongst the bird wave, giving fairly good views. Across the road to the other side I found a 1st winter male Mugimaki Flycatcher, it's male patterns are just about showing but overall still very washed out.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Mugimaki Flycatcher - 1st winter male

Other then some more common birds, there were a few Mountain Bulbuls around. One of a more surprising find amongst the bird wave was perhaps an Eastern Crowned Warbler, a species that is more common during passage, so it's either a wintering bird or a very late migrant. Wintering Olive-backed Pipits are common here.

Mountain Bulbul

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Olive-backed Pipit

The trademark species you can't miss here is the Plumbeous Redstart. Near the reservoir I found yet another pair, this time a male and a female. Both were equally photogenic and extremely cooperative. They are always a delight to see, and no doubt a winter specialty.

Plumbeous Redstart - male

Plumbeous Redstart - female

It was around the same area that I heard the call of the Crested Kingfisher, this is a species that had greatly decreased in recent years and rarely reported nowadays. John Allcock saw one near Ting Kok last month, but it had not been relocated since. I followed the shoreline of the reservoir and sure enough flushed a large kingfisher from the trees ahead! For the next two hours I observed the bird a few more times, always flying low over the reservoir, and on a few occasions perched quietly on trees near the water edge. They really are huge, measuring up to 43cm, definitely adds to the "wow" factor. In China they favours large rivers with a good flow of water; a habitat we lack in Hong Kong, so they often make use of wide channels within the reservoirs. I hope they will become a more regular bird again in Hong Kong, they are difficult to get bored of.

Crested Kingfisher - perched on the opposite side of the reservoir

The other rarity that had been spotted at Bride's Pool was a Rufous-faced Warbler. I heard a bell like ringing call last week but couldn't get a sight confirmation so I was not confident enough to report the bird, Kwan found this one on Sunday morning and I decided to give it a try on Tuesday. Long and I arrived early morning and within ten minutes of our arrival we locked our bins onto the bird, a tiny warbler with an unmistakable rufous face. The last time I saw one in Hong Kong was all the way back in 2004 at Tai Po Kau, so I am glad to be able to connect with this little guy. After encountering these great birds, who knows what else may be lurking around the corner at Bride's Pool!

Rufous-faced Warbler - quite a tiny stunner